Empowering Voices: Highlights from the MIT Biotech Group’s Women in Biotech Leadership Seminar Series

The MIT Biotech Group recently marked a significant milestone in its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through the launch of its inaugural Women in Biotech Leadership seminar series. This inspiring series united three founding CEOs from biotechnology companies focusing on microbial ecology, women’s health diagnostics, and immunoengineering, providing a platform for them to share profound insights and facilitate discussions centered around fostering diversity within healthcare. 

The first edition of our seminar series kicked off with a powerful lineup of speakers, all of whom play pivotal roles across the biotech landscape. 

Speaker 1: Cheri Ackerman – Concerto Biosciences

Our first speaker was Dr. Cheri Ackerman. As Co-Founder and CEO of Concerto Biosciences, Cheri harnesses microbial ecology into products (Ensembles) that make health accessible for everyone.

Speaking to a group of over thirty students, Cheri described the process of spinning out Concerto from the Blainey Lab at the Broad, where she was an NIH Postdoc and Fellow. During her talk, Cheri emphasized the importance of assembling a supportive team, referring to her cofounders as Ensemble No. 1.

Cheri earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry at UC Berkeley, and her B.S. in Biochemistry and Spanish from Calvin College.

Speaker 2: Novalia Pishesha – Cerberus Therapeutics

Next on the agenda was Dr. Nova Pishesha, Founder and CEO of Cerberus Therapeutics, a company revolutionizing healthcare through pioneering nanobody technology. Nova is a Junior Fellow at Harvard’s Society for Junior Fellows, an instructor at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a postdoctoal fellow in Sangeeta Bhatia’s lab at MIT’s Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research.

During her talk, Nova discussed her experiences as an Indonesian woman in academia and industry and gave important tips for networking as a young professional.

Speaker 3: Oriana Papin-Zoghbi – AOA Dx

Our concluding speaker, Oriana Papin-Zaghbi, brought a visionary perspective to the seminar series by focusing on her unconventional path to starting AOA Dx, a diagnostics company developing a liquid biopsy platform focused on women’s health. 

“More than 90% of new discoveries in medical innovation stay in research within an academic setting and are never widely adopted to help patients. We’re here to change that.” – Oriana Papin-Zoghbi

Oriana started her career working within sales, business development, and international business strategy at a startup called AmniSure International, which was later acquired by Qiagen. She then went on to manage Qiagen’s distribution strategy across Europe and Africa, launching and manging strategy for a novel portable HPV testing platform in various African territories. Oriana continued developing her business acumen for seven years before starting AOA Dx in 2019. Since then, she has led AOA Dx through several financing rounds and preclinical studies, closing a $17.2 million Series A round in 2023.

During her talk (linked), Oriana candidly shared the challenges she encountered as a woman in biotech, imparting invaluable advice that emphasized the importance of resilience and out-of-the-box thinking.

Looking Ahead

Beyond the inspiring individual journeys shared by the speakers, the seminar series also emphasized the importance of fostering diversity within the biotech community. Attendees had the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions and gain a broader perspective on the challenges and opportunities in the field.

This series establishes the groundwork for MBG’s future endeavors in DEI and outreach, emphasizing our commitment to integrating diversity as a fundamental pillar of our organization.