North Carolina has a fast growing life-sciences scene, with more than 67,000 employees and more than 770 companies. Industry leaders, such as Biogen, Bayer Crop Science, Grifols, Merck, Pfizer and PPD, have flocked to the state for its relatively low costs of living and doing business, strong research institutions and effective workforce-development programs.
The N.C. State University graduate oversees commercial and clinical efforts at the Lee County site. Pfizer invested $100 million for gene-therapy clinical trial materials production in 2017 and $500 million to produce gene therapies in 2019.
The Duke University professor’s gene therapy company raised $81.5 million in March. He moved to Duke in 2018 after many years at UNC Chapel Hill, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry. He co-founded Chapel Hill-based Bamboo Therapeutics, which sold for more than $200 million in 2016.
First job: Painting houses and construction
North Carolina’s challenge: Educating state officials about the transformative horizon if we accelerate gene therapy. It will happen but much faster if we educate those who have an important say in whether drugs and medicine get to people who need them.
Best advice: Just because research is published doesn’t mean it’s right. Don’t trust anyone else’s science until you do it yourself. (a graduate school professor)
People you admire: Parents who never stop fighting to find hope for their child’s disease.
Favorite music: Classical
Something surprising: My nephew and I own Eno River Farms, which sells pick-your-own berries, homemade ice cream and plants.
Atala researches the use of healthy cells donated by patients to treat damaged tissue in bladders and other organs. The University of Louisville School of Medicine graduate has more than 250 patents. He chairs the urology department at Wake Forest University’s medical school.
The Hobart College and UNC Chapel Hill graduate became CEO of the cancer-therapies developer earlier this year. He has nearly 30 years of industry experience, most recently leading GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. pharmaceuticals and vaccines business.
Burns, a Purdue University and University of Delaware graduate, has two decades of biotech experience. In June, Grifols announced a $351.6 million investment and 300 more jobs at the Clayton campus. The planned site will meet demand for plasma-derived medicines.
Modern Healthcare named Caveney among health care’s 100 most influential people in 2020. He joined Labcorp in 2017 after stints at Duke University Medical Center and Blue Cross Blue Shield. He has law and medical degrees from West Virginia University and a master’s from UNC Chapel Hill.
Datin, 58, recently announced a $61.5 million expansion at the medical contract research organization. He has led the company since 2013. Datin has a bachelor’s degree from Marshall University and an MBA from the University of New Haven.
First job: Delivering newspapers
Employer’s distinction: Our highly skilled employees and culture. We have employees from more than 50 countries working to cure diseases.
Person you admire: Robert Ingram, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline
Favorite recent book: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Favorite music: Classical
The High Point native is a leading biotech investor and philanthropist. He started PPD in 1985 and Furiex Pharmaceuticals, which sold for $1.4 billion in 2014. He has a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, where the pharmacy school bears his name. He earned a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati.
The Indiana native started with a predecessor company of the agriculture chemical giant while attending Purdue University nearly 35 years ago. The Temple University MBA graduate has held his job since 2010. The Chinese-owned company said in March it would invest $68 million at the Gate City division headquarters.
The N.C. State University graduate, 49, heads the Danish company’s insulin factory, leading more than 800 employees. It spent $65 million there in 2018 to expand capacity. About 90% of its diabetes treatments are used domestically.
First job: Operating a bulldozer at N.C. State’s Centennial Campus
Employer’s distinction: We drive change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic diseases.
North Carolina’s challenge: Prioritizing investments in water, waste-handling infrastructure and education
Proud family accomplishment: My wife of 23 years, Christy, who has been Teacher of the Year many times
Koneru immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1982. He was a pharmacist and lawyer before founding his sterile-injectables company in 2005. He is a law graduate from the University of San Diego and Columbia University and has a doctorate from the University of Southern California.
Macdonald has spent more than 25 years in the biopharmaceutical industry. A graduate of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, he previously led Morrisville-based INC Research, which is now Syneos Health. Parexel signed a three-year development agreement with Pfizer last year.
After 13 years with the biotech company, Meeson was named CEO in April 2020. The Newcastle University graduate recently announced a $2 billion cell-culture factory in Holly Springs that is expected to employ more than 700 people. The company is owned by Japan’s FujiFilm and Mitsubishi.
Mikhail, 54, co-founded the company in 2002 as a UNC Chapel Hill spinoff. It was bought by Bayer for as much as $4 billion in October. She has a University of Chicago MBA and a law degree from Northwestern University.
Employer’s distinction: Our scientific co-founder demonstrated that adeno-associated virus could be cloned for therapeutic purposes.
North Carolina’s challenge: We need capital to de-risk technology, scale it up and build sustainable companies.
Proud family accomplishment: My daughter Megan, who is working on her Ph.D. and will help people with eating disorders
Something surprising: I suffered from a speech impediment.
O’Brien, 55, joined the company in 2017 after 16 years with Allergan. He has overseen FDA approval of two drugs that treat neurological conditions. He is a graduate of Western State College of Law.
Employer’s distinction: Our family culture and patient-centric approach are keys to our success. We focus on sustainability, not quarterly shareholder reports.
Favorite passion: Anything outside and active such as snow skiing
Something surprising: I have worked in more than 20 countries and lived in the U.S., Canada, Singapore and South Korea.
Research Triangle Park
A New Zealand native and University of Sydney graduate, Rea joined BASF Australia in 2001, moving to the United States in 2004. He leads its RTP presence, integrating $9 billion of assets from Bayer in 2018.
Reece, 51, has a Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill. Since 2011, she has led the contract-research company started by her parents.
First job: Checking data for allowance money
Employer’s distinction: Our work helps extend life, enhances health and improves quality of life. Rho has been a flexible, supportive organization for more than 35 years.
Person you admire: My grandmother was born “dirt poor” on an Arkansas farm, fought for her education, traveled the world and became a successful businesswoman. Her best advice: If I am the smartest person in the room, I need to find another room.
Favorite recent books: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Ritschel has more than 25 years of business development and management and technology licensing experience. Soon after Atsena launched last year, it raised $55 million for its work on reversing or preventing blindness. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Washington University.
Research Triangle Park
After co-founding SiriusXM, Rothblatt turned to biotech to find a cure for her sick daughter. She is co-inventor on six patents for the drug Treprostinil, which treats high blood pressure. She holds degrees from UCLA and Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Samulski is among the state’s most acclaimed scientists with more than 200 patents for his virus therapy research. His biggest corporate successes include Bamboo Therapeutics, sold to Pfizer, and AskBio, which Bayer is acquiring. With a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, he led the Gene Therapy Center at UNC Chapel Hill for 25 years.
After more than a decade at Merck, Schechter became LabCorp’s president and CEO in 2019 and chairman in 2020. It has performed more COVID-19 tests — 40 million — than any other commercial lab in the country over the past year. He is a La Salle University graduate.
Schreiber earned a bachelor’s degree at Bucknell University and a medical degree from the University of Miami. Shattuck, which develops cancer treatments, raised $118 million last summer, expanding its locations in Durham and Austin, Texas. He previously was chief scientific officer at Chapel Hill-based Heat Biologics.
The City University in London graduate joined the drug-development services provider in 2007. In February, he announced that Ireland-based ICON was purchasing PRA for $12 billion. The deal is expected to close this year, when Shannon will join ICON’s board.
Since assuming his roles in 2012, Simmons, 56, has more than doubled the drug-development company’s workforce to 26,000. He’s a Carnegie Mellon University graduate. PPD went public in February 2020 and in April received a $17 billion takeover bid from Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Employer’s distinction: Our employees combine passion with purpose, and that fosters a company culture committed to success for us and our customers.
North Carolina’s challenge: Getting families, schools and businesses back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic
Best advice: Facts are facts and wishing for something doesn’t change reality.
Favorite recent book: Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
With more than 40 scholarly works and 20 patents or patent applications to his name, Uknes, 60, has negotiated $450 million in research-and-development deals and raised more than $500 million in equity capital. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. at Washington University.
First jobs: Newspaper delivery and veterinarian technician
Employer’s distinction: AgBiome is uniquely positioned to give growers what they must have — safe, effective control of pests — and consumers what they demand — safe food sustainably produced with less or no synthetic pesticides.
Favorite passion: Cycling
Ward, 60, has 30 years of ag-biotech experience and more than 35 patents to his name. A graduate of Duke University and Washington University, his company searches for new uses of the plant microbiome.
First job: Building interior door units
Best advice: “When you have a lot of work to do, don’t commiserate with other people about how much work you have to do.” (my high school physics teacher)
Favorite passions: Cooking and road cycling
Person you admire: My best friend, co-founder and co-CEO Scott Uknes is a brilliant entrepreneur with boundless enthusiasm and a relentless desire to improve himself and those around him.
Favorite recent book: Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Roberts
Favorite music: Classical and Grateful Dead
Something surprising: I interviewed Frank Zappa for my high school newspaper.