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Startup Builders, IPO Closers & More: Meet Xconomy’s CEO Award Finalists

Xconomy Boston — 

There are many ways to stand out as a biotech CEO, from getting a company started in the first place to pushing its first drug over the finish line. Those differences are what we noticed when going through the nominations from you, the readers, for the top Boston biotech CEO, as part of the first-ever Xconomy Awards.

Together with a panel of judges—a group of 11 Boston-area life sciences veterans—we’ve combed through all the entries to come up with the seven finalists we found most compelling. This is a diverse group of CEOs representing companies at different points in their biotech lives. One CEO was lauded for the grit and determination it took for her to start her company and push it forward. Another saved a company by winning a controversial drug approval.

The winners will be named at a gala on Sept. 26. And the finalists are…

COMPANY BUILDERS

Paula Ragan, X4 Pharmaceuticals

It’s easy to evaluate the CEO of a publicly traded company. You need different metrics to judge performance in the private sector. Climbing through the ranks to launch and build a company is a tall order in its own right. And that’s what readers have told us about Paula Ragan, CEO of X4 Pharmaceuticals.

Ragan is a Genzyme veteran and a disciple of Henri Termeer, the late former CEO of the rare disease giant. She worked her way up at Genzyme to lead the partnering efforts for its big rare disease business. When Sanofi bought Genzyme in 2011, she saw a drug program get shelved that she thought might prove useful for cancer immunotherapy. So she left Genzyme in 2012, and two years later cut a deal to license the drug and started her own company around it, X4 Pharmaceuticals. Fast-forward to 2017 and Ragan has already raised a $37.5 million Series A round—Termeer was a co-founder and investor, before his passing in May—and now has a pipeline of drug candidates, three of which are in clinical testing for cancer and rare diseases.

“Paula embodies the drive, vision and charisma to lead a startup company,” says one reader who nominated her.

Rene Russo, Arsanis

The need for new antibiotics to battle deadly drug-resistant infections is growing each year, but developing them is a tough sell for startups. Antibiotics just don’t command the same pricing power that, say, cancer immunotherapy drugs do, making financial rewards unclear. And the regulatory goalposts have changed over the years. Pressing forward and convincing investors to buy in isn’t easy.

That’s one of the reasons readers have nominated Rene Russo, the CEO of a startup, Arsanis, which is developing a treatment for deadly bacterial and viral infections. Russo, a 15-year veteran of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Cubist (the antibiotics giant Merck acquired in 2014), came to Arsanis in 2015 as chief development officer. She was promoted to president and CEO within a year after spearheading the company’s clinical development plan. Since taking up that post, she’s helped get Arsanis’s lead drug into Phase 2 trials, earned a fast-track designation from the FDA—a tool used to speed up the review of an experimental therapy—and raised a roughly $46 million round in April from a broad group, among them the venture arms of Google and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.  “She is clearly one of the brightest new CEOs we have in the Boston area,” says one reader.

FROM PRIVATE TO PUBLIC: IPO NAVIGATORS

Katrine Bosley, Editas Medicine

It’s tough to succeed once in biotech. Try doing it twice, while trying to develop the first ever human therapeutic using a controversial, cutting-edge technology—CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. That’s the formidable project Katrine Bosley took on. Her progress so far has earned her a spot on our finalist list.

After leading and later selling Avila Therapeutics for $925 million to Celgene in 2012 and a short stay at the Broad Institute, Bosley took over Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) in 2014. Editas was the first of a group of new gene-editing companies, and Bosley has been at the helm as it has navigated from super-hyped startup to first ever publicly traded CRISPR-Cas9 drug developer. Soon after she came aboard, Bosley helped … Next Page »

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