Mentorships have been proven to help women and men climb the corporate ladder because they help align an employee’s skills with a company’s or industry’s goals. At present, 75 percent of the larger bioscience companies offer mentorships, while just 13 percent of smaller and start-up biotech businesses have a mentorship program in place. Mentorship is something we all should be doing — taking someone under your wing and helping them progress. While having someone within your organization who understands internal operations can have benefits, I firmly believe everyone should also have a mentor outside of their organization who can offer different thinking, experiences and can provide a more objective point of view.
As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Lewis. Liz is the Head of Global Oncology Patient Value, Policy and Access at Takeda Oncology. Liz is responsible for accelerating Takeda’s efforts in securing rapid and broad patient access and continuing to strengthen Takeda’s patient advocacy and policy approach and initiatives. Over her long tenure at Takeda, Liz has led the Legal function supporting the Specialty BUs/R&D (including oncology) and was a key leader in rolling out the global Legal function. She has transformed the Patient Advocacy function to reflect Takeda’s strategic imperatives and emphasis on embedding the patient perspective into all phases of development and commercialization. Liz has played an active role in the BIO and MassBIO organizations advocating Takeda’s priorities, particularly in the areas of patient access, value and advocacy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Liz! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am a lawyer by training, but I have always been interested in science. My father was a physician, so I grew up surrounded by science and the realities of the healthcare industry. Those experiences helped shape my interest in this field and it’s a good example of how exposure to STEM fields can foster an interest in the industry among children. To be able to give back to patients, their families and caregivers became important for me at a young age.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes throughout my career, but one specific story comes to mind here — I was working hard to meet a deadline on a project and wanted to make sure I delivered the best product possible. I worked through the night and finalized the project with just enough time to run home and change for the day ahead. When I arrived back at the office to present the final product, I was greeted with some odd looks — I had, in my rush and sleeplessness, put on two completely different shoes! What did I learn? How you present yourself matters. Even though I’d worked so hard and developed a great product, my appearance still created some doubt with the people I worked with.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Takeda is always looking for new ways to make a meaningful difference for patients. To truly put the patient at the center of our work, companies need to identify ways to elevate the patient voice, even as early as the R&D stage. At Takeda, there are three ways we’ve looked to address this need:
- Understand the patient perspective — the first step to elevating the patient voice is hearing it. At Takeda, we understand the importance of giving patients the opportunity to speak. We developed a Patient Leadership Council (PLC), a group of patient advocates within the multiple myeloma community, with the goal of putting the patient at the center of business decisions to drive better drug discovery, development and commercialization.
- Solicit feedback in clinical trial development — in order to make sure we involve patient feedback in the R&D stage, Takeda prioritizes including a patient on our clinical trial steering committees to make sure the patient perspective is always heard.
- Incorporate patient input to make meaningful changes — gathering patient feedback is only valuable if we use it to inform our strategies and approach to treatment. When Takeda was in the early stages of developing one of our medicines, we had identified what we thought mattered most to patients. Rather than moving forward with clinical trial development, we underwent a patient journey mapping process to garner real patient input. Our research revealed that the outcomes we had considered were not those that mattered most to patients. As a result, we refined our trial design to use these patient-centered priorities.
By incorporating the patient voice early on in our product development, we can continue to develop products and treatments that address real unmet needs in the patient populations we serve.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
As someone who has worked in the life sciences industry for the better part of two decades, I’ve often felt that our industry can do a better job mirroring the diverse communities of patients who are served by our therapies and devices. These observations are supported by a September 2017 MassBio report, which found that there’s a significant gender gap in the industry, and it continues to widen in more senior levels within an organization. While men and women equally aspire to the C-Suite, at the most senior level, just 24 percent of executives and 14 percent of board members are female.
Takeda is striving to ensure we have better representation of women at the highest levels of our organization, but the onus doesn’t just fall on corporations — we as individual leaders are responsible as well. I think some of the key ways we can begin to close this gap are:
- Policy: At a corporate level, companies can enact policy changes or participate in organizational initiatives to achieve diversity and inclusion in the industry.
- Mentorship: Mentorships have been proven to help women and men climb the corporate ladder because they help align an employee’s skills with a company’s or industry’s goals. At present, 75 percent of the larger bioscience companies offer mentorships, while just 13 percent of smaller and start-up biotech businesses have a mentorship program in place. Mentorship is something we all should be doing — taking someone under your wing and helping them progress. While having someone within your organization who understands internal operations can have benefits, I firmly believe everyone should also have a mentor outside of their organization who can offer different thinking, experiences and can provide a more objective point of view.
- Sponsorship: By extension, sponsorships are an active promotion of someone to help them advance their career. It’s about providing them with visibility and opportunity to become a leader and coaching them along the way. As a member of Takeda Oncology’s senior leadership team, I actively mentor and sponsor many young women within the organization to help them on their path. I encourage them to take on new challenges to advance their careers and meet their goals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One quotation that has always resonated with me is by Bernard Baruch, presidential advisor to Woodrow Wilson and FDR. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Throughout my career and my life, I’ve found the times I’ve been happiest and most fulfilled are the times where I’ve felt I have been truest to myself with less regard for how others will perceive me.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Justice Ginsburg uses her knowledge and her voice to advocate for justice, living a commitment and focus for women regardless of their career or circumstances. Her loving relationship with her late husband is a model for both men and women. Among the many things I would like to learn from Justice Ginsburg are how to avoid letting obstacles get in the way of success, how women can own their ambition and what is like to have a demanding career while living with cancer.
Thank you so much for all of these great insights!