Dr. Michelle Dipp - Women in Biotech 2012

Dr. Michelle Dipp
Company: OvaScience
Title: CEO
Industry experience: 7 years
Focus: Female fertility treatments

Michelle Dipp has made a fast climb to the upper echelon of the biotech industry, becoming chief executive of OvaScience just 6 years after joining the founding team at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. And she's putting the company on the inside track to advance its first product for female fertility to market, if things go as planned with regulators, of course.

Few other men or women in their mid-30s can match Dipp's resume in biotech. As a vice president of corporate development at Sirtris in 2008, she engineered the sale of the company to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) for $720 million. She then rose up the executive ranks at GSK, eventually helming the London-based drug giant's Centre of Excellence for External Drug Discovery (CEEDD), where she secured option-based deals with biotechs to bolster GSK's pipeline. She was also among the Sirtris alums--including Christoph Westphal and Rich Aldrich--who formed the Longwood Fund in 2010 to seed their next crop of biotechs.

Dipp has now dedicated herself to OvaScience, where Aldrich is a co-founder and chairman and Westphal is a fellow founder and board director. The company formed last year to translate the stem cell discoveries from the lab of Jonathan Tilly at Massachusetts General Hospital for the fertility field. Tilly has identified egg precursor cells in mammals that have the potential to develop into fertilizable eggs. OvaScience's first product taps the mitochondria from a woman's precursor cells to improve the odds of success of in vitro fertilization, targeting mothers in their late 30s and early 40s whose previous attempts to get pregnant with IVF have failed. 

Dipp's vision and plan at OvaScience is to eventually advance its technology to grow eggs from a woman's egg precursor cells, a potentially revolutionary advance in female fertility and one that is likely to take years to bring to market. She's raised about $48 million since last year to bankroll the operation. Its stock is publicly traded over the counter.  

OvaScience isn't completely new territory for Dipp. At Sirtris, she was part of a team led by Westphal at the forefront of translating anti-aging science from the lab of David Sinclair at Harvard to provide new treatments against diseases of aging. Both OvaScience and Sirtris are companies founded to bring new therapies to patients based on breaking research from academic labs.

Meet Dipp and you understand why she's on top of her game. She's got an M.D. and a Ph.D. in physiology from Oxford, giving her the chops to hang with Sinclair and Tilly in discussions about biology. Yet she's smart enough to understand her audience, enabling her to communicate bold new ideas in science to investors, the public and the press. She shows poise more characteristic of someone with 27 rather than 7 years of industry experience, perhaps borrowing from lessons learned from her earlier passion, ballet. A rare episode in Dipp's and Westphal's careers came in August 2010 when they took flak after their employer at the time, GSK, learned that a nonprofit with which they were affiliated, the Healthy Lifespan Institute, was selling resveratrol supplements over the Internet.

Setbacks are inevitable in the risky biotech game, but Dipp seems to have way more career wins than losses, and she emphasized the importance of mentors in her work. They have included Sandra Robertson, chief investment officer at Oxford, who worked with Dipp at the Wellcome Trust pre-Sirtris. More recently, she's picked up pointers from industry legends like Henri Termeer, the former chairman and CEO of Genzyme.   

"I usually give two pieces of advice. One is to be passionate about your work, because … if you're going to be successful, you're going to work really hard," Dipp says. "The second is to seek actionable feedback. I think that it's important to not just hope that you'll find a mentor but seek out advisers … both inside and outside of your company who have been successful in translating new technologies into new therapies."

-- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

Dr. Michelle Dipp - Women in Biotech 2012

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