Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
If Helen Sabzevari had to describe her brand it would be an “unwavering commitment to find new therapies for patients who need them — quickly and at an affordable cost.”
A leader in immunology and president and CEO of Precigen, a company focused on next-generation cell and gene therapies using precision approaches, Sabzevari is focused on making these advanced technologies a reality for patients with unique disease profiles. The cell and gene therapy field has come a long way in a short time, and Precigen is aimed at using more adept strategies to target the patient’s immune system and its nuanced role in fighting diseases. The clinical-stage biotech has six candidates including three in late-stage trials — one for Type 1 diabetes, another for HPV and solid tumors and one targeting recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
“With our UltraCAR-T library approach, we are working on the ability to rapidly design and develop non-viral vectors that allow us to make CAR-T therapies that are highly personalized, based on a patient’s specific cancer-related biomarkers,” she says. “In this library approach, a sample of a patient’s tumor will be tested to identify specific biomarkers to generate personalized UltraCAR-T treatment by genetically reprogramming a patient’s own T cells.”
Sabzevari says she takes a holistic approach to leadership. According to Sabzevari, leaders have to pull different levers for specific situations, and constantly evolve to learn from external and internal conditions. Despite her executive role, she says she leads “from the base, not the tower,” and sees herself as part of the team.
“I utilize what I would describe as situational and adaptable leadership, adapting my leadership style based on the situational need of the moment,” she says.
Sabzevari, who was born in Iran, has assembled a diverse leadership team with equal representation from women and minorities that promotes a culture committed to fairness and inclusion. This approach extends to inspiring and recruiting future leaders in the field by strengthening the bridge between academia and biopharma.
“At this point in my career, I am focused on mentorship and the importance of training the next generation of leaders in the industry.”
Since taking the helm at Precigen, Sabzevari’s nominator says, “she helped to establish the Precigen Postdoc program at the company’s Maryland headquarters, which selects candidates to be at the forefront of immuno-oncology, in vivo pharmacology, translational immunology and vaccine research, and work alongside some of the world’s leading scientists.”
These achievements have gotten Sabzevari recognized outside of pharma. In 2021, she landed on Forbes’ “50 over 50” list, and spoke at a Forbes summit that included Hillary Clinton, Tyra Banks and other high-profile luminaries.
One of her nominators notes that Sabzevari’s mission to develop novel, game-changing cancer treatments as a worldwide leader in immuno-oncology inspires the team to reach big goals.
“[Sabzevari] takes her mission personally: success to her means an opportunity to extend people’s lives,” a nominator writes.
Sabzevari says she surrounds herself with people who love the field and does everything in her power to grow the next generation of leaders.