Startup Snapshots: Biotech from research to market

By: Dick Anderson
Startup Snapshots: Biotech from research to market

Alice Leung, MBA ’86, Sapientiae

Alice Leung didn’t develop her new business by today’s rules. Sapientiae, a biotech management consulting firm, has no website, no app, and no real online presence. (“Most of the work I do is confidential,” she explains.) Clients find her by word of mouth, referrals, and a well-connected confederation of experts that she has accrued after more than 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Scientists often get very excited about the technology, but don’t think through what makes a marketable drug,” Leung says from her office in Oakland, Calif. Working with these young companies, she and her colleagues bring their skills to bear in the long and arduous process of bringing a drug to market, from clinical development and patient advocacy to working with regulatory and reimbursement agencies abroad.

Leung’s experience at Johnson “taught me to break down projects into small pieces,” she says. “Sometimes when I work with scientists, I ask ‘Why wouldn’t you approach it this way?’ They’ve never been taught the ability to walk around a problem to see it from all sides.”

Having spent nearly eight years as a CEO (of Intarcia Therapeutics Inc., a biopharmaceutical company), Leung appreciates the flexibility that her consultancy gives her. Her father, 83, a survivor of esophageal cancer, was diagnosed six years ago. “My parents are six hours away by flight,” she says. “When you are a CEO, you are on call 24/7 and have little leeway for flexibility.”

Earlier in her career, Leung worked in oncology development for Bristol Myers Squibb and Berlex, the U.S. subsidiary of Schering AG (now Bayer). With Sapientiae—adapted from the Latin word for wisdom—she still enjoys the “information high” of being in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry: “To this day, oncology is still closest to my heart.”