Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Since taking the helm of Gamida Cell as president and CEO nine months ago, Abbey Jenkins has negotiated a follow-on public offering; secured a financial partner; primed the company for the launch of its first product; and navigated changes to the company’s board. Undaunted by the pressures of being a first-time CEO, Jenkins is leaning into her decades of experience as a commercial and business development leader to propel the 20-year-old cell-therapy company into its next stage.
“I wanted to be the CEO of a company with a meaningful product or products where we could make a difference in patients’ lives and have the ability to create value for shareholders and create a market for products like these,” Jenkins said.
Gamida Cell received approval in April for Omisirge, which Jenkins said is “the first allogeneic stem cell transplant therapy to be approved on the basis of a global, randomized phase 3 clinical study.”
“I was excited to join the company because of the science and the product and the team,” Jenkins noted. “The science we’re building is unique and simply elegant. Our NAM or nicotinamide technology enables us to expand and enhance cells. When I was contemplating this opportunity and talking to the board of directors, I was incredibly excited about Omisirge … this is a potentially curative and lifesaving therapy.”
Jenkins has had a lifelong interest in science and, while pursuing an honors degree in microbiology, she took a class called “Marketing of Biotechnology,” which “changed everything.”
“I had never thought about business or thought of myself as a business person and this was the pivot from scientist to business person,” she said.
In the late 1990s, Jenkins joined the industry as a sales rep for Pfizer, which was in the midst of launching Viagra. She was inspired by the leadership advice of the then CEO Bill Steere, who noted that “anybody who was going to get into this industry and be here for the long term needed to learn it from the front lines.”
“I went from being a government scientist, that’s literally what my business card said, to a Pfizer sales rep,” Jenkins said. “My very first manager asked me, ‘Where do you want to be in 10 years? Where do you want to be in 20 years?’ I was thinking I’m just trying to learn this job, but those are good questions. Luckily from a very early timeframe, she pushed me to think more long term.”
During that early part of her career, Jenkins, a 2022 PharmaVoice 100 honoree, said her time at Pfizer was like going to the “Harvard of pharmaceutical training.” Afterward, she went on to roles with increasing responsibility, including C-suite and executive positions at Lyndra Therapeutics, Emergent BioSolutions and Aquinox Pharmaceuticals.
One of the biggest lessons she’s learned since being named CEO is to trust her instincts and be bold.
“My biggest, ‘I’m sure every CEO probably feels this way,’ (thought) is: Don’t think you’re moving too fast. Often you regret not moving fast enough, and one of our values at Gamida Cell is to be bold,” she said. “I look forward to moving even faster going forward. I would tell my nine-months-ago self, which sort of feels like nine years ago at this point, to trust your instincts and move as quickly as the company needs you to move, as the patients need you to move, as the shareholders need you to move — and trust yourself.”
Here, Jenkins shares how leading with clarity and courage creates transformative change, her secrets to maintaining balance and boundaries, and why thinking big is key to building a fulfilling and “limitless” career.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Abbey Jenkins, president and CEO, Gamida Cell Ltd.
Taren: Abbey, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Abbey: Thanks, Taren. I’m excited to be here.
Taren: It’s been a while since we last connected around your PharmaVoice 100 recognition, as well as our various intersections at HBA events. I want to congratulate you on being named president and CEO of Gamida Cell just nine months ago. Lots of new things since you’ve taken over — a follow on public offering, the approval of Omisirge, changes to the board; you’ve been busy. Tell me about the experience so far.
Abbey: Yeah, it’s been an amazing ride since September. I would say lots of great work being done at Gamida Cell. So I was excited to join the company because of the science and the product and the team, and the science that we’re building here is unique and simply elegant. We have something called NAM technology or nicotinamide technology that enables us to expand and enhance cells. And we, at Gamida Cell, had been working for the past 20 years to turn cells into powerful therapeutics. And so when I was contemplating this opportunity and talking to the board of directors about it, I was just incredibly excited about that NAM technology, about the potential of Omisirge; it was called omidubicel back then, but now brand name Omisirge which is a stem cell product for patients with hematologic malignancies of potentially curative, potentially lifesaving therapy that was on the precipice of an FDA approval.
And then to now speaking with you post our April approval is tremendous, being able to bring that product to patients and then to be doing it with this incredible team of people. We have a very strong leadership team filled with some cell therapy experts like our Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Michele Korfin, who’s an expert in launching cell therapies; and then Ronit Simantov, who’s our Chief Medical and Scientific Officer who develops therapies, and she’s an oncologist by training. So just an incredibly talented team of people on top of this great science. So, yeah, it’s been a really exciting nine months.
Taren: It sounds terribly exciting and really on the precipice of something different and new. So tell me a little bit more about…you mentioned that it’s a unique technology. Can we dig in a little bit deeper into that, if you don’t mind?
Abbey: Sure. Well, Omisirge is the first product that we’ve had approved by the FDA here at Gamida Cell. The product itself is the first FDA-approved stem cell transplant on the basis of a global randomized phase 3 clinical trial, which was conducted in patients with hematologic malignancies. So this product is kind of the first of its kind, if you will, and now we’re in the process of launching it in the market, which is tremendous for a company that’s been working to bring cell therapies for this long.
Taren: Absolutely. I love that it’s the first stem cell of this nature, so really breaking new ground. Very exciting. And is it the science, I think you said that the science that drew you to the company because you could have had your pick of companies.
Abbey: Well, I would love to agree with you, Taren. I’m sure you know that becoming a CEO for the first time is challenging for anyone, certainly female CEOs are in the minority. I would say I did have a number of opportunities. Gamida Cell was by far the most exciting and attractive with a commercial stage asset, and not just an asset but a product that’s potentially lifesaving and a public company; and this team, it was just certainly differentiated right at the get go.
Taren: Yeah. Well you have a lot of commercial experience and we’ll dig into that a little bit later so I think that’s right in your wheelhouse. So how are you making the role your own? Nine months in, culture is important, the science is important, commercialization is important; how are you making the role your own?
Abbey: That’s probably a better question for my team, but I’ll take a stab at it. I would say I was taking the company over from its former CEO who is more of a drug developer and a scientist. And so by that nature, I would say the change of CEO was different because as you mentioned I’m a commercial and business development person not a serial drug developer or scientist. Although I do have degrees in science, but I certainly don’t think of myself as a scientist. But coming in, I would say I wanted to maintain the culture. We have very strong values here at Gamida Cell that were put in place under the former CEO; values like embracing change, being bold, delivering results, obviously patients first with this type of therapy. But those types of values really resonated with me coming in so I wanted to maintain that element of our culture and the values that have gotten us here, but recognizing that the company was at an inflection point.
If we were successful, we were going to be moving from clinical to commercial stage; and that’s the stage I’ve had the good fortune of helping companies transition through before, but it’s a really difficult change. It’s very different when you’re operating at commercial pace, when you have different types of external demands and expectations put on your performance and delivery. And so I think I tried to start to bring that concept into the company early around the type of change we were going to be facing as we moved from clinical to commercial stage.
Taren: Smart. And it’s such a great inflection point. So 15-20 years ago keeping a product like this would’ve been almost unheard of for a smaller biotech. Why did you decide to keep it to commercialize and find partners for it?
Abbey: Sure. I think this is one of the financial realities I faced coming in as the new CEO of Gamida Cell. There were some macroeconomic events happening, as you’re very familiar in the market at large but specifically in the biotech space, even more pressure on the cell and gene therapy space. So even though we had this amazing product that was pending FDA approval, it had breakthrough status, it was under priority review, and certainly had the potential to satisfy a great unmet need in the market. So we had all of this amazing stuff going for us, but the financing conditions were extremely challenging so we had to make some difficult decisions. We originally intended to fully go on a loan in the US and seek international partners, but at the end of March had to make a difficult decision to launch the product, which we were completely launch ready in April, but also seek a partner so that we could more rapidly expand access in the market and generate more shareholder value.
So we think this is the right combination. We’re leveraging our expertise and everything that we know as experts in giving Omisirge in the transplant space, but hope that by partnering with another pharmaceutical company we may be able to expand that reach more quickly.
Taren: Sounds like a sound strategy. You noted earlier that coming in as a first time CEO and as a woman, couple of hurdles there. Have you found them hard to clear or has it been a pretty easy transition into it for you?
Abbey: I would love to say, “Oh, it’s been a really easy transition” but that would be lying. I do think that there are some tensions there with…I’m sure being a CEO for the first time is challenging for anybody, I can certainly speak from experience. I’ve found this throughout my entire career is I’ve moved up in organizations and in leadership. There are some characteristics that are more typically associated with males around assertiveness and decisiveness and directness, and those are characteristics I naturally display. But I think they can be more challenging as you’re trying to come in and lead an organization and a lot of very strong personalities in the company or outside of the company. It can feel like there’s a tension between being empathetic and collaborative and getting along with pushing things forward and especially I think I’ve had to make a lot of difficult decisions. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of board support so that’s really helpful, but everyone externally hasn’t always understood or appreciated the vision.
I feel like now at this point, as they’re seeing the pieces come together, they’re seeing how the decisions are lining up, that things are starting to fall in place, and the value is starting to come along. We’re certainly not there yet, but things are lining up. We’re on much more stable ground now.
Taren: It’s lonely at the top sometimes, Abbey, isn’t it?
Taren: What has been your biggest “aha!” as a CEO?
Abbey: I would say my biggest “aha!” and this is not groundbreaking, I’m sure every CEO probably feels this way, but just that I don’t think you ever regret moving too fast. Often you regret not moving fast enough, and I think that’s something that one of our values here at Gamida Cell is the be bold value. I think it’s something I have been inspired by the company to be bold, to move forward. And I think for me, I look forward to moving even faster going forward. I think I second-guessed myself quite a bit having never been in this role, having never been in cell therapy or oncology before, that some of my instincts might not be right. I would tell myself, this nine-months-ago self which sort of feels like nine years ago at this point, to trust your instincts and move as quickly as the company needs you to move, as the patients need you to move, as the shareholders need you to move; trust yourself. And so I think I’ll be doing that going forward even more.
Taren: That’s excellent. Yes, trust your instincts. You’ve been doing this quite some time and you’ve got a lot of learnings along the way; and we’re going to dig into that career journey in just a minute. But let’s talk about some of your primary goals for 2023. Launching the product is huge; what else is on the table for you?
Abbey: Sure. Well, I think that’s first, second and third when we came into the year for 2023, we had a PDUFA date delay so it had been shifted from January to May. And so we were very laser focused on making sure we worked closely with the FDA and ensured that the product was approved. Obviously, the product is approved. So now for the second half of the year, we’re focused on launching the product and creating a very positive and successful customer experience, making sure that we’re working with transplant centers to get them on-boarded so that we can ultimately make this available to patients. So most of the organization’s energy is really dedicated to getting Omisirge off to a good start.
On the flip side, since we are seeking a partner that’s kind of number two in tandem with the approval and launch to make sure that we find a great partner, the right part partner so that we can really maximize access to this product for patients. Additionally, we’re a company that operates in two countries. So our intellectual property, our NAM technology, Omisirge itself originated in Israel; that’s where our R&D heart is, where our manufacturing capabilities are built. We have a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Kiryat Gat, Israel; and so we have over a hundred team members that are operating out of Israel. But we’re also in the United States and we’re launching this primarily in the US market; that’s what we’re focused on right now. So we have a company that’s in two countries in three or four different time zones with employees operating, and we’re growing. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re adapting from clinical stage ways of work to commercial ways of work, with new team members being added new roles, new expectations for results. And so really focused this year on making that transition, not only delivering the product but operationally scaling up for that.
Taren: That’s a lot to have to wrap your arms around – multiple time zones, multiple different cultures, not even just company cultures but different cultures geographically as well. Are you sleeping at night? Just curious.
Abbey: Well, one former CEO that I worked for, David Maine from when I was at Equinox when I got this job, he said, “So I guess you know the secret now that the CEO never has a day off; it’s 365 days a year, seven days a week, that sort of thing.” And I think to some degree that is true, definitely a truth, but I am trying to seek some balance and so forth but it is certainly challenging in this role.
Taren: And you’ve got a couple another products behind your approved product in the pipeline. Let’s talk about those for a second too.
Abbey: Sure. We have a clinical stage asset GDA-201 which is a different cell therapy application of our NAM technology. It’s a natural killer cell therapy and we apply the NAM technology in a similar way with Omisirge which is a stem cell therapy product. We enhance the stem cells to improve their ability to home to the bone marrow. With the NK cells, we’re increasing their NK-ness or their killing effects, potentiating their cytotoxic properties and enabling them to be more resistant to oxidative stress. So with GDA-201, the clinical stage asset, that’s the NK cell therapy for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and it’s currently in the phase 1 dose escalation portion of a phase 1 and 2 clinical trial. So we’re excited, we hope that we’ll have some data to reveal possibly at the end of this year, but more likely in early 2024 on that.
Taren: Well, even if you got it out early 2024, that’s still pretty significant considering where you are right now with everything else. That’s a lot to have to manage. And tell me, how big is the company?
Abbey: In terms of the number of employees, we have about 150 employees operating in two jurisdictions, Israel and the US.
Taren: That’s still a pretty small size considering all the things you have on the docket and moving forward. So as you said, you’re growing quickly, so congratulations to you. And that’s another challenge, right? Managing that growth and making sure the culture is preserved. And as you said, it’s a 20-year-old company so now it has to evolve – not easy.
Abbey: Absolutely. Well said, Taren.
Taren: I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth there, Abbey, but I can see it from the distance. So let’s talk about your career journey. We’ve known each other quite a bit, so tell me what led you to this role right now?
Abbey: I think I’ve had the good fortune of having expert mentors along the way from my very first job as a sales rep at Pfizer, my very first manager Amy Van Kirk, as she was known then, Amy Gregory now, but she was my first manager in industry. And I would honestly say from that moment where I became a sales rep, and I became a sales rep because I read an article that interviewed the CEO of Pfizer, Bill Steere, at the time, and he said anybody that was going to get into this industry and be here for the long term needed to learn it from the front lines. So I went from being a government scientist, that’s literally what my business card said, a government scientist to a Pfizer sales rep launching Viagra back in 1998 because ultimately I wanted to be in the pharmaceutical industry, learn it from the front lines. And with my very first manager, she was asking me, “Where do you want to be in 10 years? Where do you want to be in 20 years?” I was thinking “I’m just trying to learn this job, but those are good questions.” But luckily from a very early timeframe pushed me to think more long term.
And I’ve had a number of mentors along the way who similarly influenced me. I had the great fortune of working for Angela Hwang, who’s now the president of Pfizer, when I moved from sales into marketing. Angela taught me the difference between strategy and tactics and how to think big and take perspective and long range vision for brands and portfolios; and I think I use that every day to this day. And others who always pushed me out of my comfort zone, out of the nest, I had another manager, Paul Williams, who really I think helped shape my future by always pushing me out of the comfort zone, encouraging me to take risks, trust my instincts which you heard from my earlier answer, can still be a challenge today, but definitely pushed me to have that experience that I use every day. So I would say along the journey I had roles of increasing responsibility, but a lot of people helping me think through those decisions and challenging me to get here.
And at one point, someone asked me when I decided I want to be a CEO “What type of CEO do you want to be? A big company? A small company? A startup? With products? Without products?” like a lot of questions again just like that first manager. And the answers to those questions really led me to Gamida Cell because Gamida Cell is the type of company I wanted to be the CEO of a company with a meaningful product or products where we could make a difference in patients’ lives and have the ability to create value for patients obviously, but value for shareholders create a market for a product like this. All of that really fits into what I wished for back in the day.
Taren: Wow, that’s awesome. Well, congratulations on getting your wish, but it was a lot of hard work to get there. And I was taken aback when you’re talking about Bill Steere and the Viagra days; talk about having a masterclass opportunity of learning back in those days. What an incredible experience.
Abbey: Yes, I am so grateful for whatever serendipity led me to that opportunity because I couldn’t agree more. I used to say to Angela all the time it was like going to Harvard of pharmaceutical training. I really loved my experience at Pfizer in sales and marketing and learned a lot that I use today.
Taren: Fantastic. I have to go back; you said government scientist was on your business card. Abbey, what’s a government scientist?
Abbey: Right. I think the whole point is you’re not supposed to know, it’s very mysterious – I’m kidding. Pretty much you have a scientific degree and they can ask you to do whatever they want.
Taren: Okay. We will leave it there. I don’t want you to have to kill me if you tell me. Well, let’s talk about what led you to science. What was it about that interested you about science?
Abbey: I loved science from an early age. I didn’t like bugs that were living, but I liked bugs under a microscope that were on a pin, that sort of a thing. I was fascinated with living creatures biology. I should clarify I’m a microbiologist and I love living organisms; and I just kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller to the microorganisms. But really went to college on an honors science degree program, never took a business class, intended to be in science for the rest of my life. Started a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University in biotechnology which the government contractor was supporting and later paid for by Pfizer, so thank you. But while I was in that graduate program, I was introduced to a class called Marketing of Biotechnology, and all of a sudden it was like, “Oh my goodness, this is so interesting.” I had never thought about business or thought of myself as a business person and that was the moment that things changed and then Pfizer followed and so forth. So that was the pivot from scientist to business person.
Taren: Wow. You did one class and it changed everything for you; it’s amazing.
Taren: You don’t know where that pivot point’s going to come so it can come at any point, I guess. So you are now sitting in the C-suite, you’ve been a role model to quite a few people along the way; do you consider yourself to be a role model?
Abbey: It’s hard for me to think that because I still feel like I’m learning every day and absorbing and growing every day. But I know from the feedback of others I have a lot of mentees throughout the industry, formal and informal people that come to me for advice and so forth so I assume that I must be a role model, but it still feels weird to hear that out loud or say that out loud.
Taren: Get used to it, get comfortable in that skin because you are there now. You’ve gotten there, so next step is this company and then we’ll see where you go after you get all these drugs through the pipeline and helping patients along the way. You’ve noted a couple of your leadership strengths and some of the ones that you perceive to be a weakness, but how would you describe yourself as a leader?
Abbey: We talked about this a little bit for the PharmaVoice 100 is as I’ve reflected on my career choices made consciously or subconsciously, I realized I am a catalyst. So I’m a person who seeks change and the ability to transform things and lead with clarity and courage, or so I’ve been told, and the ability to create a cohesive team of people that can operate together really like a true team and build that connection amongst people. So I feel like I rely on that every day at work those things. And I’ve been drawn to companies that are in some sort of state of evolution. As you were saying, Gamida Cells is in the state of evolution or metamorphosis where a company, whether it’s a product or a team or a company in this case, is looking to be something different tomorrow than it is today. In this case, going from clinical stage to commercial stage, product launch, going from a product that’s in development to a product that’s on the market, even rebranding or repositioning and relaunching products – all of those are some version of that need for a catalyst.
So I’m drawn to those types of opportunities. Now, I’m aware that I’m drawn to them. As I looked back, I realized, “Huh, every company or job I had ever joined or taken that I enjoyed was something like that.” I don’t enjoy kind of status quo and just keep the lights on. That’s really not a good fit for me and not a good use of my talent.
Taren: Agreed. You talk about being a catalyst and with that come as being able to communicate your vision for what is coming next. What are some of your keys to success there? Because sometimes leaders have a vision but they can’t get the followers. How do you get people to follow you down your path?
Abbey: I think I try to create a clear vision of where we’re going, meaning what is the destination; what does it look like; what will it feel like; how will we know when we’ve gotten there, but also what it’s going to take along the way, some of the bite-size bits or the milestones on the way to the journey, how will we know when we’re on our way even if the destination feels far off. At Emergent BioSolutions, that was a company that I joined where the company wanted to diversify from being a government contractor to being an innovative pharmaceutical developer which was a huge change in their business model. And they had brought in business heads to run the different business units; and in my case, it was the vaccines business unit and had over 200 people that reported directly about 600 that matrixed in globally. I mean, it was definitely the biggest team I had ever had. Largest P&L over 600 million dollars at the time so just a very large business. But also the heart and legacy of the company and now trying to transform it to get it to operate more like an innovative biotech versus government contractor is huge change, and just really tried to paint that future destination of where are we going.
I remember some folks were just like, “How are we going to get there? That seems impossible. That just seems too far for us to go” and trying to put those milestones along the way like what is the short-term destination that we could get to that indicates we’re going to make it all the way up the mountain or all the way to our ultimate destination. And then as soon as we started to hit some of those short-term milestones and people were like, “Oh my goodness, this is working.” And we went from just a couple of sort of bumbling clinical programs to eight active development programs, some new products launched in new jurisdictions. So we went from having virtually no pipeline to a thriving robust pipeline. And one of those programs went from idea to through phase 1 execution in under 12 months during the first year of the pandemic. So just showing what a team could do. But we had had a few of those short-term milestone wins at that point, really motivating people we can do it, we can do the impossible.
Taren: It sounds like it’s a combination of having that strategy and then the tactics behind it because “I talked to a lot of people, we have this great strategy” but you have to have the tactics and the resources to achieve those milestones. I call it strategery because it’s being stratactical, strategy with the tactics; one without the other it doesn’t work, right?
Taren: It sounds like you have a predominantly female management team; is that true?
Abbey: I do. I have all women now with one male, yes.
Taren: And purposeful?
Abbey: Well weirdly the company was founded with women. I’m like the third female CEO I believe of this company. So I would say the former CEO hired two of the women, I’ve hired two women, and the male colleague was here before me. So I would say there was definitely a desire for diversity before I got here and embracing of diversity. But after I’ve gotten here, we are only more and stronger. It’s pretty unusual, Taren. And not just like in CFO, CMO, CCO, those are pretty strong functions to have this many women.
Taren: It certainly is. And that’s great because I think you’re right, that diversity really provides a different perspective. It just opens up the aperture so much wider than traditionally staffed roles like that, so kudos to you all.
Abbey: Thank you.
Taren: What’s the one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Abbey: I would say I’m kind of an open book, but things that often surprise people, one is that I’m a grandmother of two now. I recently had a new addition, a new little baby boy. So I’m a stepmother or I think it’s more in vogue to say bonus mom, but I’ve been a bonus mom for almost 25 years, have been a part of the kids’ lives for a really long time, and it’s been great to see my oldest having kid. I still am very uncomfortable with grandparents so I go by GG, but I think that usually surprises people the most.
Taren: I’m totally surprised. I would not have guessed that’s where you were going. Wow. Well congratulations, GG. That’s amazing. And that’s a whole different journey that you’re on there. So now you’re at this exciting point in your of life, you’ve got this great career going, and now you’re a grandmother; how do you balance it and is there such a thing as balance? I mean, we talked about it a little bit earlier on that I joked that are you sleeping at all, but how do you try to figure out what’s that right balance or still a work in progress?
Abbey: I would say still work in progress, although some of my mentees along the way and colleagues would say, “You’re doing the best I’ve ever seen anybody do. You establish boundaries. You do all the things they tell you in the books – you put the blocks on your calendar for thinking time and you schedule your workouts and all of those things” and I was really great at that until I got this job. I’m still figuring out how to do it from this chair. Honestly, the balance is important not just for your mental health and physical health, but to be able to perform in your job you need to sleep and oscillate between periods of high output and periods of recovery and I believe in that. And so still working to figure out how that looks and feels in this job.
Taren: Great. Well, good luck because it’s not easy. So let me ask you, what’s the first thing you do to start your business day?
Abbey: Well, the first thing I do is I play with my dog or pet my dog and have some coffee with the husband, that sort of thing. But then I jump in, I try to read the news, but often get sidetracked with an email here or there. And when I can, when I’m doing really well with my balance and my boundaries, then I start the day with a workout before jumping into meetings and so forth. So in my best days I’m doing yoga and exercising before things kick off. Today, not such a day.
Taren: Well, it’s a Monday. We’ll blame it on being a Monday; how’s that?
Abbey: That’s right.
Taren: Do you have any like business rituals or is there something you have to do every day business wise? I love the workouts and I love having the coffee and the dog, but is there anything that really you do on a consistent basis that you have to do to keep your mind straight for business?
Abbey: I am a calendar pruner, so I would say every day there’s some form of pruning, pruning of the next day, pruning of the next week, looking and trying to create that space, making sure that I’m focusing on the most important things in my role for the company and the business. And that if I am spending my time not at my best and highest use, then that’s not good for me, it’s not good for the company. So I would say every day a business ritual is that kind of pruning of things and making sure I’m focused on the right priorities.
Taren: Fantastic. We didn’t touch on this and I’d like to do it before we hit into your WoW moment is that there are different pressures running a public company than there are a non-public company. How does that weigh on you because you’ve got a lot of folks you have to answer to?
Abbey: Yeah. For good or for bad, almost all of my career was spent at public companies starting with Pfizer and certainly now Gamida Cell. So I had one brief foray into the private sector, but I’ve almost never known anything but this so I think that helps because you’re just completely used to it. It is different because as I was mentioning as you move to commercial stage, you start to have different expectations. Right now we’re in the post-approval honeymoon period, but at some point we will have to start guiding and performing to financial results in addition to key milestones or catalysts. I think it’s going to be at that point soon, but I love that. So for me it’s almost all I’ve ever known.
Taren: Good. Good training to get you where you are. Let’s go to your WoW moment. This is how we end all of our WoW podcasts. This has been a great conversation, thank you so much for being so open and transparent about some of the struggles, some of the challenges, but also the opportunities that you’re realizing with the company. You talked earlier about a pivotal moment that kind of gave you an “aha!” wake up from the marketing of biotechnology. Was that your WoW moment that changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you or is there another one?
Abbey: Well, one WoW moment. So a person who was more of a peer mentor who became a friend, one day we were taking a walk, we were at work at MedImmune, her name is Jennifer Butler, she’s a pharmaceutical executive as well. I was in marketing and she was my market research partner and we were trying to reposition and rebrand a product together. We were taking a walk like during the workday, we were going to do our one-on-one out on a walk which is very normal now post COVID but back in 2007 as I believe this was, she just asked me, “Well, where do you want to go? What’s your biggest destination career-wise?” I think we had only known each other for like six months at that point, we weren’t best friends yet, and I said, “Oh, maybe chief commercial officer” and I was like senior product manager at this point in marketing. And she said, “Why would you limit yourself? Why would you ever limit yourself? Why wouldn’t you think bigger?” and I thought, “Wow, this is the first time someone said that to me and definitely the first time a peer had ever said something like that to me.” And she said, “I can see where you can go and you should look in the mirror and sort of find it for yourself; and that changed my life. That was one of those moments where I thought maybe I could be the CEO of a company. I’d never thought about that. There are still very few female CEOs, but in 2006 there were even fewer.
And honestly, Taren, I had reached out to a couple that were out there saying like, “Hi, I think I want to be a CEO someday” and people actually wouldn’t meet with me, told me they were too busy. So something I try never to do now, always have time for someone that’s serious about a career path like that. But there just weren’t very many role models, so it didn’t seem like that was even possible. So to have this person pushing me and seeing maybe something in me that I didn’t see in myself at that point was life changing for me. And now we are best friends, so it’s wonderful.
Taren: That’s a great WoW moment. And I’m sorry that those folks that you reached out to back then didn’t take the time for you because it is so important as you noted. There are so few women sitting in those seats of power that you have to send the elevator back down. You just have to do it. And I’m so grateful to you for doing that for others, so thank you for taking the time to do that.
Abbey: Thanks, Taren.
Taren: This is a great conversation. Thank you so much. I am so excited for you and what Gamida is doing, and look forward to great success in the launch of the product. Go get ‘em, Abbey.
Abbey: Thanks, Taren.
Taren: Thanks for being part of our WoW podcast program.
Abbey: Thanks for having me.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.