The New England biotech community has lost one of its well-known members way too early. Adriana Jenkins, a public relations specialist for numerous biotech companies, has died from breast cancer. She was 41.
Jenkins worked the last several years with The Yates Network, an independent PR firm that represents quite a few of the Boston area’s most interesting biotech companies—Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Alkermes, Avila Therapeutics, Constellation Pharmaceuticals, ImmunoGen, Pulmatrix, and Synta Pharmaceuticals, to name a few.
While most PR pros toil behind the scenes to shine the spotlight on their clients, Jenkins herself had a gripping story to tell. Her fight against breast cancer was chronicled by the Boston Globe in a 2002 special report. Just as she was embarking on an exciting new job at Cambridge, MA-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals in her early 30s, Jenkins learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. At the time, she wasn’t sure she should accept the job, given that she might die soon.
Fortunately for Jenkins, Millennium still wanted her to come to work. Even more importantly, doctors learned her form of breast cancer was driven by a protein called HER2, which meant she was a candidate for a novel medicine at the time from Genentech called trastuzumab (Herceptin), which specifically works to block the activity of that protein. Jenkins credited that drug with helping extend her life another nine years. It was such a powerful experience for her that she wrote a guest op-ed for Forbes, which was published the day she died. In this editorial, she makes a clear and unsentimental call for Congress to establish new incentives for drugmakers to create more medicines like the one that helped her.
“She was, bar none, one of the most talented, creative, hard-working PR professionals I’ve ever worked with,” says Barbara Yates, president of The Yates Network.
Jenkins had “the whole package,” Yates says, referring to Jenkins as someone who understood stories from a journalist’s point of view, knew how to write, had creative ideas, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to learn about complex science.
Jenkins got to build a wide-ranging network around the Boston biotech community from her time at Millennium. One person she became friends with was Cynthia Clayton, who’s now the senior director of investor relations and corporate communications at Alnylam. They stayed in touch after they both left Millennium, and Clayton leaned on Jenkins at times for consulting advice.
“It was easy to forget she was carrying this burden of breast cancer,” Clayton says. “She brought a real spark to her work, she was very passionate about what she was doing.” Jenkins was so deeply connected to biotech that she felt the need to return to the industry after a stint running her own jewelry design business. “She really missed what she was doing” in biotech, Clayton says.
I personally worked with Jenkins on lots of stories over the years, both at Xconomy and during my prior stint at Bloomberg News. I didn’t know her well personally, but I do know that she was a consummate professional who offered up story and interview opportunities that made sense for me and my publications. I never knew that she had cancer until I saw her at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco in January 2010, and saw she was wearing a wig.
She didn’t say anything about it, and I was afraid to ask. I thought she looked a little less confident, a little more vulnerable than the person I had first met a few years before. Yet I had to respect she was still there at a grueling must-attend industry conference, focused on doing her job, working to coordinate a good interview between me and Avila Therapeutics CEO Katrine Bosley.
I was really struck by the Forbes piece yesterday and the clarity of Jenkins’ writing. Her post reminded me how powerful it can be when a knowledgeable patient speaks up from personal experience to weigh in on a matter of public interest. I wish more patients would come forward like this to tell their stories. Who knows, maybe Jenkins inspired a few to follow that example.
There will not be a formal memorial service, but if you have any memories of Jenkins that you’d like to share, Xconomy readers are certainly welcome to leave comments below. Instead of flowers, her family asks friends to consider sending a donation in honor of Jenkins to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 10 Brookline Place West, 6th Floor, Brookline, MA 02445. Attn: Dr. Jennifer Ligibel’s Research Fund.
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