North Carolina continues to gain prominence as a major life sciences state with investments from both large pharmaceutical companies and innovative new businesses and startups. Clusters of manufacturers have developed in Johnston, Lee, Pitt and other counties, while the Raleigh-Durham area is a key research center aided by strong university research programs.
senior director of operations | Pfizer
Armstrong oversees Pfizer’s growing Lee County operations. The global developer and manufacturer of health-care products committed $100 million for clinical trial materials production in 2017 and $500 million to produce gene therapies in 2019. He has an N.C. State University master’s degree.
co-founder, acting chief scientific
officer | StrideBio
Asokan is a surgery, biomedical engineering and molecular genetics and microbiology professor at Duke University School of Medicine, where he also serves as director of gene therapy. He previously taught at UNC Chapel Hill, where he earned a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry in 2004. He started StrideBio in 2015, based on research he and co-founder Mavis Agbandje-McKenna completed. He also co-founded Chapel Hill-based Bamboo Therapeutics, which developed gene therapies and was purchased for about $200 million by Pfizer in 2016.
director | Wake Forest Institute for
Atala’s research work has been the subject of hundreds of journal articles. He and his team of more than 400 researchers are developing ways to grow replacement tissue and organs from healthy cells donated by patients. The Wake Forest School of Medicine professor holds more than 250 patents. He is a recipient of the Christopher Columbus Foundation Award, funded by the U.S. Congress and bestowed on a living American who is working on a discovery that will significantly affect society.
CEO | G1 Therapeutics
Bailey took the reins of this publicly traded cancer therapies developer in January 2021, adding to a long career in pharmaceuticals. He worked for Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline, where he was president of U.S. pharmaceuticals for five years. He is a graduate of Hobart College and UNC Chapel Hill.
Pre-workday motivation: Reading The Wall Street Journal and completing Wordle.
Key to industry success: Developing good innovation that meets an unmet medical need.
Best advice: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt.
Proud family accomplishment: A 27- year marriage and two children who are pursuing their passion in the sciences.
Favorite hobby: Taking 50-mile bike rides along the Falls of Neuse Greenway.
Where to entertain a visitor: Angus Barn.
president | Grifols Therapeutics
A chemist with a Ph.D. from University of Delaware, Burns has climbed the ladder at Grifols over the past decade. The Barcelona-based company makes medicines derived from human plasma. It has steadily expanded in North Carolina, where it had more than 2,000 workers as of 2020.
chief medical officer, president |
After working for Duke University Medical Center and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caveney joined Labcorp in 2017. He holds medical and law degrees from West Virginia University. Modern Healthcare named him among health care’s 100 most influential people in 2020.
Best advice: My maternal grandmother taught me that my library card is infinitely more valuable than my credit card.
Three people to share a meal: Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin and Dr. Alice Hamilton.
Favorite hobby: Watching my three sons participate in athletic or other events.
Where to entertain a visitor: Any Duke or UNC Chapel Hill sporting event.
president, CEO | BioAgilytix Labs
The Marshall University graduate is a veteran leader in the life sciences industries. He was tapped to lead BioAgilytix in 2013 and has guided the contract research organization’s expansion. It has six labs worldwide, including locations in Germany and Australia.
founder | Eshelman Ventures
A leading biotech investor and philanthropist, Eshelman started contract research organization PPD and drug developer Furiex Pharmaceuticals, which Forest Laboratories bought for $1.4 billion in 2014. He has a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, where the pharmacy school bears his name, and a doctorate from University of Cincinnati.
CEO | Asensus Surgical
Fernando previously held posts at medical technology companies Stryker and Becton Dickinson. He was named CEO at Asensus, which makes systems for digital laparoscopy surgery, in 2019. He earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering from University of Nevada Las Vegas and an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill.
corporate vice president, general
manager | Novo Nordisk
The N.C. State University graduate heads operations at the Danish company’s insulin factory near Raleigh. Approximately 90% of the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s diabetes treatments are administered domestically. He oversees more than 800 employees and a $150 million annual budget.
CEO | Liquidia
co-founder, vice chair | Kriya
Jeffs, who co-founded gene therapy developer Kriya, took his current post at publicly traded Liquidia earlier this year. He retired in 2016 as president and co-CEO of United Therapeutics, where he worked for 18 years. The two companies, which develop treatments for pulmonary arterial hypertension, went to court last year when United Therapeutics claimed a former employee took trade secrets to Liquidia. The case is pending. Separately, Kriya has raised more than $180 million. Jeffs has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Duke University and a Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill.
founder, president, CEO | Exela
Koneru founded sterile-injectables manufacturer Excela in 2005. He immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1982. He holds law degrees from the University of San Diego and Columbia University and a doctorate in biomedicinal chemistry from University of Southern California.
CEO | Parexel
Scotsman Macdonald was named to his post in 2018. The clinical research company was acquired by the EQT private equity group and Goldman Sachs for $8.5 billion in November. He previously led Morrisville-based INC Research, which merged with inVentiv Health to create Syneos Health in 2017.
CEO | Fujifilm Diosynth
As CEO since April 2020, he’s leading expansion of contract manufacturing capacity at the company owned by Japan’s FujiFilm and Mitsubishi. That includes the $2 billion factory under development in Holly Springs that is billed as the world’s largest “end-to-end” biological production plant. Plans call for 725 employees.
co-founder, CEO | AskBio
Mikhail, 55, co-founded gene therapy developer AskBio in 2001 based on research from UNC Chapel Hill. Germany’s Bayer bought the business in October for $4 billion. She has a University of Illinois undergraduate degree, University of Chicago MBA and Northwestern University law degree
president of North America | Merz
O’Brien, 56, spent 16 years with drug developer and manufacturer Allergan before joining German family-owned Merz in 2017. He was named its president of North American operations the next year, leading efforts to develop treatments for neurological conditions. He has overseen FDA approval of two drugs, including one that targets ones associated with Parkinson’s disease, ALS and cerebral palsy. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Saint Mary’s College of California and a graduate degree from Western State College of Law.
Pre-workday motivation: Working with great people. We recently started to come back to Merz’s North American headquarters, which is in Raleigh, after primarily working from home the past two years. It is great to see faces in person and catch up.
Key to industry success: Be honest and open and communicate.
Where to entertain a visitor: Start the day with a walk along a greenway — The Art to Heart is one of my favorites. It starts at the North Carolina Museum of Art and ends 6 miles later in the heart of downtown Raleigh, where there are plenty of restaurants for lunch. I would definitely return downtown for dinner as well. Jolie, Poole’side Pies and Brewery Bhavana are a few of my favorites.
senior vice president of agricultural
solutions North America | BASF
Research Triangle Park
A New Zealand native and University of Sydney graduate, Rea joined BASF Australia in 2001 and moved stateside in 2004. In 2015, he assumed the lead role for its RTP operations, which develops crop protection materials and systems.
CEO | Rho
For nearly two decades, Reece, 55, has worked for Rho, which was started by her parents. She became CEO of the contract research organization in 2011. She is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, where she earned an undergraduate degree, master’s and Ph.D. in public health.
Pre-workday motivation: At Rho, we really do get to extend life, enhance health and improve the quality of life for real people through the work we do. That is exceptionally motivating to me.
Key to industry success: Expertise, adaptability, and commitment. Our industry is complicated and highly regulated for good reason — patient safety is in our hands. It requires expertise to do that effectively. In addition, we are frequently working with products with misunderstood effects. After all, that is why we test them. But that means that trials often do not proceed exactly as we mapped them out. As a result, you need to adapt. And as we adapt, commitment, which stems from truly caring about the patients we are serving, is what drives us to do the work quickly and effectively.
Best advice: Stay curious.
Three people to share a meal: I find most people fascinating. Right now, I am very interested in foreign affairs, so I would select Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Antony Blinken.
Proud family accomplishment: We have maintained a strong relationship while working together for many years. Having worked for both of my parents, Dr. Ronald and Mary Helms, then running Rho together with my brother, Dr. Russell Helms, for more than 20 years, as well as working with my sister-in-law, Dr. Wendy Greene, and my husband, Charlie Reece, I am grateful we still have a great time together.
Favorite hobby: I love to spend time outdoors with my family. My husband and I have two children, ages 10 and 13. We drag them on hikes, and they dragged us sledding this winter. We also love to go to parks just to play.
Where to entertain a visitor: Durham is an amazing city with many unique options. My favorite place is the Museum of Life and Science. It has fascinating indoor exhibits, but I’ve recently fallen in love with its outdoor exhibits.
chair, CEO | United Therapeutics
Research Triangle Park
The co-founder of SiriusXM radio turned to biotech in 1996, teaching herself high-level biology so that she could help her ailing daughter. She is co-inventor on six patents for the drug Treprostinil, which treats high blood pressure. She holds law and MBA degrees from UCLA.
R. JUDE SAMULSKI
co-founder, president, chief
scientific officer | AskBio
The acclaimed scientist owns more than 200 patents related to his virus-therapy research. His work helped create Bamboo Therapeutics, which Pfizer bought for $200 million, and AskBio, which Bayer acquired for $4 billion. He previously led UNC Chapel Hill’s Gene Therapy Center for 25 years.
managing director | Hatteras
general partner | Hatteras Venture
Shaffer oversees life-sciences investments for Hatteras, a “post-retirement” job for the former president and CEO of Inspire Pharmaceuticals. At Inspire, Shaffer raised more than $300 million before taking the company public. Merck bought the company in 2011. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee.
Pre-workday motivation: The idea that the companies I work with are developing innovative approaches and therapies that can transform lives.
Key to industry success: Innovation and the acceleration of sound science via translation in the clinic.
Best advice: Always follow your moral compass (from a former board chair).
Three people to share a meal: Drs. Jennifer Doudna and Francis Arnold.
Proud family accomplishment: They are proactive about finding causes they love and giving back to the community.
Favorite hobby: Reading (during the pandemic).
Where to entertain a visitor: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
Board member | ICON
A former executive vice president at Wilmington-based PPD, Shannon joined PRA Health in 2007 and was CEO from 2010 until its $12 billion sale last year to Dublin-based ICON. The MBA graduate of City University in London joined ICON’s board following the merger of the contract research organizations.
co-founder, co-CEO | AgBiome
Uknes and Eric Ware were among the co-founders in 2013 of the biotech that has raised more than $250 million from Synenta, Bayer and others. The Ph.D. graduate of Washington University has written more than 40 scholarly works and previously helped start Cropsolution and Paradigm Genetics.
co-CEO | AgBiome
Ward is a molecular plant biologist with more than 30 years of ag-biotech experience and more than 35 patents and 75 scientific publications to his name. He’s a graduate of Duke University and Washington University, where he earned a Ph.D. in plant biology.