Industry experience: 32 years
Focus: Regenerative medicine
Few people can boast of such a diverse and high-profile career in business. Before Cox took over at Humacyte, she was the chair of Prism Pharmaceuticals, which Baxter International ($BAX) bought in 2011. And before that, Cox served as the president of global pharmaceuticals at Schering-Plough until the company merged with Merck ($MRK) in 2009.
"I had a wonderful time in the Big Pharma industry," Cox told FierceBiotech, "but after the last two major mergers and integrations I felt that I had not been as focused on patients and innovation and bringing new medicine to the market as I had been able to be when I first entered the industry." Cox found herself in the fortunate position after the second buyout she went through to sit back and actually make a decision about what she wanted to do with the rest of her career.
So, why Humacyte? The Morrisville, NC-based company, co-founded by Dr. Laura Niklason, Shannon Dahl and Juliana Blum, is working on replacement blood vessels that would ultimately be available "off-the-shelf." The technology is unique, and this is one of the aspects of the company that attracted Cox to Humacyte. Particularly, Cox told us, "I was interested in focusing on a small company that may or may not be able to get something really wonderful to market if they didn't have an experienced businessperson to help guide them."
Cox, though, is a pharmacist by training, and one of the aspects of that experience she found most rewarding was the contact with patients.
We caught up with Cox at a very exciting time in both her own career and in Humacyte's progression. The company recently began looking for patients to enroll in its first human clinical trial, which is slated to get started in a few weeks. Humacyte's platform technology could eventually be used to build from human tissue any tubular-shaped vessel in the human body. Its first product, though, is for kidney hemodialysis. Patients who need to be on dialysis--often as a result of diabetes--eventually will wear out their own veins due to the recurring procedure. Currently, Teflon or other synthetic grafts are inserted into these patients' veins, but those can lead to all sorts of problems such as infections and rejection by the body. Humacyte's product is human tissue-based and therefore such problems could be much less likely to occur.
Speaking with Cox it became clear that what drives her is bringing medicine to patients and improving their lives. Another aspect of her career she's found rewarding is the teamwork she's been a part of and the people she's learned from and taught. The "amazing synergy that happens when you build a team that really works well together" was one of the highlights of her time in working for large pharma companies and the lessons she gleaned help her in her role today.
Being a woman, though, never resonated as relevant with Cox. When asked how her gender affected her experiences in biopharma, she laughed. "My approach has been to not really think about it," she said. "Just do the job, do a great job, and try and do an even better job tomorrow. Focus on adding value, and don't worry too much about the next stage. Make sure you're doing things that have an impact on other people."
Ultimately, this last point is what drives Cox in her work today, and regenerative medicine is uniquely attractive. This field is "just opening up," she said. When she found Humacyte, Cox immediately thought: "This is perfect. Because it's a brand-new innovation, and what's being done there hasn't been done anywhere else ever before. It's complicated, it's difficult, but the potential impact could be amazing."
-- Jennifer Levin (email | Twitter)