From MD to CEO: These physicians are leading the biotech industry

By Samar Mahmoud, MS, and Charlie Williams
Published December 16, 2021

Key Takeaways

Scroll through the websites of some of the nation’s largest health systems and click on “About Us.” You’re likely to find plenty of physician executives steering the top providers across the nation. That’s no surprise—organizations that depend on the hard work of clinicians ought to have their expert voices at the top.

Is the same true for the biotech industry? Biotech companies differ from pharmaceutical companies in that the therapies they manufacture come from living organisms, rather than chemical or synthetic components. But in both biotech and big pharma, physicians are the ultimate prescribers for the therapies in question—and that means physician leadership can make a big difference.

Here are four of the top physician executives leading some of the world’s most successful biotech companies.

Keith Dunleavy, CEO of Inovalon 

Keith Dunleavy kicked off his career as an engineer, receiving a college degree in neuroscience modified with engineering from Dartmouth College. During his Ivy League undergrad years, he completed an honors thesis combining neuroscience, computer science, and electrical engineering to simulate the way the human brain works to power robotic limbs.

Dunleavy chose to pursue medical school when one of his professors noted that, if successful, his work could be used by physicians to treat their patients. “I was fascinated by the whole process, which led to my saying I needed to do that part also,” he told Inc. magazine. 

After earning his MD from Harvard Medical School, Dunleavy completed his medical residency at Johns Hopkins, specializing in internal medicine. Not content with the rigors of medical school, he spent time programming AI software for Merck, cultivating his love for data. 

Dunleavy found that he could have the biggest impact on patient health by putting his time and energy into developing data-driven health care solutions. So in 1998, he founded MedAssurant, which would ultimately become Inovalon, a technology provider of cloud-based platforms that empowers healthcare providers to make data-driven decisions.

According to its website, Inovalon provides 80% of the nation’s clinical and quality outcomes measurement analytics, and supports all of the top 25 US health plans, all of the top 25 global pharmaceutical companies, and 24 of the top 25 US healthcare provider systems, and powers the enterprise platforms of 35% of the specialty pharmacy market. 

Dunleavy is worth an estimated $27.3 million. He owns more than 60,000 units of Inovalon stock.

Reshma Kewalramani, CEO of Vertex

When Reshma Kewalramani was named CEO of Vertex, a Boston-based biotech company, she shattered a glass ceiling by becoming the first female CEO at a top US biotech company—and that was just a few short years ago in 2019. She was no stranger to leadership roles, as she previously worked at Amgen and then as Vertex’s chief medical officer and executive vice president of Global Medicines Development and Medical Affairs since 2017. 

Kewalramani received her medical degree from the Boston University School of Medicine and completed a fellowship in nephrology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital combined program. 

During her time at Vertex, Kewalramani has made significant strides in bringing new medications to more cystic fibrosis (CF) patients around the world. She was involved in the approval of Symdeko/Symkevi and Trikafta, which has the potential to treat up to 90% of all CF patients.

Beyond CF, Kewalramani was critical in expanding Vertex’s programs, including treatments for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, APOL1-mediated kidney diseases, sickle cell disease, and beta-thalassemia, into the clinic.

Kewalramani is worth an estimated $24.2 million, with the majority of that value derived from ownership of more than 10,000 shares of Vertex worth more than $15 million.

Leonard Schleifer, CEO of Regeneron 

Leonard Schleifer grew up in Queens, New York, and had a passion for science and entrepreneurship from an early age that was inspired by his parents and a devoted high school math teacher. 

He graduated from Cornell University and earned an MD/PhD from the University of Virginia, specializing in neurology. Soon thereafter, Schleifer became frustrated with a lack of treatment options for patients with disorders of the nervous system. He began wondering if biotechnology could make a difference for these patients.

To fill this gap and satisfy his wonder, Schleifer founded Regeneron, where he’s worked as CEO since its inception in 1988. Initially a small start-up, Regeneron is now a $70 billion market cap company with seven FDA-approved drugs. According to Forbes, Schleifer was on the list of the 400 richest Americans in 2020 and has a net worth of $2.5 billion as of December 2021. He has been awarded multiple accolades over the years, including recognition as one of Barron’s Best CEOs as well as an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

August Troendle, CEO of Medpace 

In 1992, August Troendle founded Cincinnati-based Medpace, a full-service, clinical research organization that provides phase I-IV development services for drug and device programs worldwide. Prior to founding Medpace, Troendle graduated with a medical degree from the University of Maryland, School of Medicine. He briefly worked as a medical review officer at the FDA’s Division of Metabolic and Endocrine Drug Products, where he specialized in metabolic and endocrine drug products. 

Troendle’s leadership has grown Medpace into a globally recognized company, earning numerous awards included being on the Forbes list of America’s Best Mid-size Companies in 2021 and being named Fortune’s #4 Fastest Growing Company in 2020. 

Troendle is currently worth an estimated $1.61 billion, with the majority of that value derived from Medspace stock worth nearly $1.2 billion.

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