See the full list of PharmaVOICE 100 winners here.
Dr. Leen Kawas
Transforming Therapy for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Title: President and CEO
Company: M3 Biotechnology Inc.
Education: PhD, Washington State University; PharmD, University of Jordan; Executive Training Certificate, University of Washington Foster School of Business
Family: Parents, siblings
Hobbies: Hiking, swimming, exploring new places and food
Bucket List: Get a drug approved; see more of the world; start a family
Awards/Honors: BIO International Convention – Buzz of Bio Finalist, 2017; Forbes – What Happens When Women Dream Big And Act Boldly?, 2017; Association of Washington Business – Entrepreneur of the Year, 2016; EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women 2016 – Entrepreneurial Winning Women, 2016; EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 – Finalist as EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Pacific Northwest Award, 2016; GeekWire Awards 2016 – Finalist as GeekWire Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 2016; Life Science Leader – Hot New Therapeutics MOAs Versus Neurodegenerative Diseases, 2016; Forbes.com – Meet the Millennial CEO Taking Bold Steps to Cure Billion-Dollar Diseases, 2016; The Montgomery Summit – The Rise of the Female Entrepreneur, 2016; GeekWire – M3 named one of Seattle’s Top 10 Hottest Startups, 2016; Puget Sound Business Journal – CEO Leen Kawas honored as 40 under 40, 2016
Associations: Alzheimer’s Association, regional board member; Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, scientific advisory board member; Life Science Washington, board member; Community Development Round Table, member; Association of Washington Businesses, board member; Governor’s Life Science Advisory Board, member
Tweet at: @leenkawas; @m3biotechnology
Leen Kawas, Ph.D., dedicated herself to making a difference in healthcare after losing her mother to a neurodegenerative disease when she was 18. Just 10 years later, she became CEO of a start-up company designed to discover therapies to reverse the course of an array of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Becoming a CEO was a move she hadn’t planned on, but it’s a move that is paying off in a big way for M3 Biotechnology.
Her capabilities became know to her Ph.D. adviser at Washington State University (WSU) who suggested that Dr. Kawas become involved in commercializing research from WSU on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and eventually M3 Biotechnology was born.
“I started a company, learned about entrepreneurship, helped to grow the company, and soon we will start our clinical trials,” she says. “I did not listen to what people thought of a 28-year-old Jordanian woman trying to start a company and resolve Alzheimer’s disease.”
She says moving from academia to being an entrepreneur was the best move she could have made for herself and her biggest career highlight to date.
According to colleagues, Dr. Kawas handles “firsts” with aplomb and no fear. Moving to America at 21, she overcame many challenges, and now as a female, millennial, first-generation American, and first-time CEO, she has defied stereotypes and faced discrimination head-on from established technology investors in the Pacific Northwest. However, Dr. Kawas developed her entrepreneurial muscle, persevered, and succeeded.
At 30, she completed more than 100 investor meetings before closing an oversubscribed $12 million Series A funding from Washington State regional venture funds, Dolby Family Ventures, and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), as well as private investors, all in one year. As one of the first investors in M3, the ADDF helped validate the therapeutic potential of M3’s drug candidate for Alzheimer’s disease. With a second investment of $1.4 million recently, the ADDF has now provided key funds to support the launch of human trials this year.
While current drugs for Alzheimer’s disease only provide symptomatic relief, M3’s small molecule therapeutics have the potential to be truly disease-modifying. By re-establishing lost connections between brain cells, these therapies may halt the course of the disease. M3 is now in the process of planning a first-in-humans Phase Ia clinical trial for its lead candidate, NDX-1017, to evaluate its safety and determine optimal dosing range.
Driven to innovate by not accepting the status quo, Dr. Kawas is a natural born leader and disrupter. Dr. Kawas takes time to pay-it-forward and mentors aspiring entrepreneurs frequently.
Her intense creativity and lack of fear when facing the difficult tasks of running a company focused on developing breakthrough therapies to meet crucial medical needs creates a motivational and passionate workplace. Colleagues say her deep reservoir of courage is contagious.
Dr. Kawas stays motivated and calm during the chaos, and open to meeting challenges and changing courses if needed.
“If it was easy everyone would do it,” she says. “Challenges spur creativity and innovation. We take challenges head on and always come out better informed and prepared for the next challenge.”
With more than 25 industry recognitions and awards to her name to date, we think her record speaks for itself. (PV)
More about PharmaVOICE 100
In 2005, PharmaVOICE launched the PharmaVOICE100 as a means to celebrate the men and women throughout the life-sciences industry who provide inspiration to their peers, colleagues, and companies through their innovative and motivational approaches to addressing the industry’s myriad challenges.
Each year, this special July/August issue of PharmaVOICE magazine draws attention from more than 100,000 readers through the print and digital editions. It has become the must-read issue of the year and a hallmark for the industry.
In 2015, PharmaVOICE established a new tradition – an annual celebration of PharmaVOICE 100 and Red Jacket honorees. Held in New York City in September of each year, The PharmaVOICE 100 Celebration convenes the most influential and inspirational leaders from across all sectors of the life-sciences industry. PharmaVOICE’s unique positioning allows us to bring together these leaders in a distinctive format allowing for much-needed collaboration through the sharing of ideas, insights, and business perspectives, while offering the opportunity to expand personal and professional networks.