Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
“Get it done” is how Rachel Lenington describes her brand. And get it done she has. Lenington has contributed to the successful development and launch of numerous global brands, including Adcetris, Padcev and Prolia, while creating value for shareholders during successful tenures at Seagen and Amgen.
“I have five plaques in my office that each commemorate drug approvals of which I played a significant role,” she says. “They are a constant source of inspiration, representing the amazing teamwork required to bring a drug to market and the hope and benefit we can bring to patients and their families. That’s the heart of what we do and what I love about my job.”
Today, as chief operating officer of biotechnology company Athira Pharma, "[Lenington’s] experience will be instrumental to help shepherd its growth from a small biotech development-stage company to a leading biopharmaceutical company,” noted one of her nominators.
The company recently announced phase 2 data for its lead compound fosgonimeton and is continuing enrollment in the ongoing phase 3 LIFT-AD study for Alzheimer’s disease. The compound is also being investigated for Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Colleagues describe her as a “driven, energetic and engaged leader who provides insightful feedback and direction across all facets of the organization.” She is viewed as “someone who is equally adept at leading cross-functional engagement and communications across the organization as well as with external stakeholders.”
Here, Lenington shares what led her to the life sciences industry, her vision for the future of Alzheimer’s disease and her key leadership techniques.
PharmaVoice: What initially drew you to the life sciences industry?
Rachel Lenington: I started my career as a consultant and worked with great companies, including Microsoft and Starbucks, but I truly found my calling when I started working within the life sciences. Every day — no matter what role you play in the work of this industry — you are making a difference for patients and their families. Even when the drug doesn’t work, we continue striving to learn more and do better. You wake up feeling that you’re making a positive difference. That’s where my passion lies.
“Neurology … is a difficult space, but there is significant need for innovation, which provides great opportunities for both companies and individuals to be successful.”
Chief operating officer, Athira Pharma
What is your blue ocean?
Making meaningful advances in the treatment of neurological diseases is my blue ocean. For example, so much of the focus in Alzheimer’s disease research is on amyloid-beta and tau tangles. Technological advances in the life science industry have given us a lot of tools, and I am hopeful that they will facilitate the development of many more new targets and approaches in neurodegeneration — in Alzheimer’s disease specifically. Coming from oncology, where there are so many different treatment options, the lack of targets in Alzheimer’s disease continues to be surprising. That’s what drew me to Athira; I was attracted to the novel HGF/MET platform because it is a completely unique approach to improving neuronal health. I sincerely hope that the 2020s are to neurology what the 2010s were to oncology and that, as an industry, we will be able to make a meaningful difference for patients and families who suffer from neurodegeneration.
What is your leadership style and what advice do you have for the next generation of leaders?
My leadership style is empowering, transparent and goal-oriented. I believe that people do their best work when they understand how what they are doing contributes to the mission and strategy of the company. This understanding empowers them to deliver, be creative, problem-solve and identify new opportunities.
My advice is to always believe in yourself and your team, and always hire great people because you’re only as good as the team you have. You also have to connect the day-to-day work to the vision, mission and strategy of the company. Helping your team and organization connect to the bigger picture can be incredible motivation and a guiding light for future leaders.
How are you paying your success forward?
Primarily through mentorship, both formally and informally. I have volunteered at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association for the past four years, providing direct mentorship and leadership guidance to five to seven mid-career women per year. It’s a wonderful organization and an opportunity to really explore and impart what it means to be a leader, and I always learn from my mentees too. Informally, I provide advice and career guidance to the people on my teams. I lead with an open-door style, which encourages my team to feel free to come to me for guidance, and I try to teach by example as I mentor people to excel in their roles and advance to greater positions.