Biotech Company Driven by Cutting Edge Science and Patients, Not Ego
Photo courtesy of Intellia Therapeutics
Sports fans know that nothing is better for the chemistry of a team than winning, and on the CRISPR field, Intellia Therapeutics is on a winning streak.
On June 26, Intellia set the biotech world on fire, announcing the first-ever clinical data supporting the safety and efficacy of in vivo CRISPR genome editing in human patients. The landmark interim data from the ongoing Phase I study, presented at the Peripheral Nerve Society (PNS) Annual Meeting, demonstrated that Intellia’s lead investigational in vivo candidate, NTLA-2001, greatly reduced the disease-causing protein after a single infusion.
NTLA-2001 is being developed with partner Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, for the treatment of hereditary transthyretin (ATTR) amyloidosis, a rare, life-threatening protein misfolding disorder caused by a specific mutation in the transthyretin (TTR) gene.
“We made history. I mean, we flat out made history and did something that only a few years ago, people would have told you is just never going to happen. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of,” said Intellia Senior Director, Talent Acquisition Shaun Vigeant.
The night prior to the momentous occasion, every Intellia employee received an invitation for a company all-hands meeting.
“Saturday morning, we jumped on the virtual meeting and one of our employees streamed the announcement. Looking at the participant list, a majority of the company dropped everything they were doing on a Saturday morning to watch the news together in real-time. People were cheering, crying, and celebrating the outcome as one.” Vigeant said. “The company organized this because they wanted us to experience the moment together.”
Organizational culture is set from the top, and Intellia President and Chief Executive Officer John Leonard, M.D., demonstrates this every day. He brings a wealth of scientific and biopharma experience, as well as passion, to the job: passion to make a difference for patients and for the team that is working to achieve it.
“He's genuine. He's authentic. He's humble, and he's a low ego executive, who cares deeply about the employees at this company,” Vigeant shared. “He meets with every single new hire when they join the organization, and it's not because he has to do it. He wants to get to know people on a personal level.”
For a company of more than 350 people, that is no small commitment. Following an illustrious 22-year career at Abbott and AbbVie that included propelling the latter’s Humira® to its place as the world’s all-time top-selling drug, Leonard came to Intellia to make the CRISPR/Cas9 technology into a therapeutic reality.
“Scientifically, John's pedigree speaks for itself. With someone like John as your CEO, it instills confidence in every single person in the company, and the news in June just validated that,” Vigeant said.
Intellia Senior Manager of Talent Attraction Programs Maritza Gamboa spoke to the impact this type of leadership has on morale.
“I had John meet with the interns this summer, and he is so down to earth and grounded, very transparent about the highs and lows of his career. And that goes for all of the leadership team. They're very willing to share about their experiences and help any way they can,” she said.
This cultural mentality of humility and open-mindedness extends down throughout Intellia’s ranks. A possible reason?
“We hire good people at their core,” Vigeant said. “We’re a very low ego company, and that's how we are able to have such a supportive culture.”
Intellia is also an anomaly in a gene editing space that typically requires an advanced degree to get through the door.
“Many companies in the biotech space require you to have a Ph.D. to advance up the scientific or management ladder, and that’s not the case here. Some of our more senior leaders do not have an advanced degree and are thriving,” Vigeant said.
Instead, Intellia prefers to focus on knowledge and skills development internally, building its future leadership from within.
On July 23rd, the company hosted a Career Day, where employees were given the chance to consider their next opportunity within Intellia. This September, employees are encouraged to participate in a Development Week, where they will be able to hone both their scientific and leadership skills.
Gamboa can attest to the value this brings.
“It’s really important to me to try different things because there are so many aspects of Human Resources, and I may find something else that I love. We definitely have that culture here, where we can let our curiosity fly,” she said.
Intellia also benefits from having the cultural experiences of employees from more than 25 countries of origin, and a balanced 56-44% female-to-male ratio.
“We are dedicated to championing a culture that celebrates diversity, fosters it within the organization, and within our community. It is a priority from the board of directors to the executive team, right through to everybody in the organization,” Vigeant said.
Intellia is very focused on lifting up its community in Massachusetts. To this end, the company has partnerships with Project Onramp, a Life Sciences collaboration that creates opportunities for underserved and minority populations, and Year Up, whose mission is to close the opportunity divide by ensuring that young adults gain the skills, experiences and support they need to reach their full educational and career potential. Last year, Intellia launched a partnership with United Negro College Fund, creating the UNCF Intellia scholarship fund for rising seniors pursuing a degree in STEM. As with its science, Intellia hopes that these collaborations will produce lifelong benefits for the students.
Intellia, whose mission is to transform the lives of people with severe diseases by developing curative genome editing treatments, may not have won the championship just yet. It has made the playoffs, however, and there is no shortage of people who want to be part of the run.
“We've always been a company that has a good reputation, so we get a lot of applicant volume, but there has been a lot more proactive outreach from people in all different types of roles,” Vigeant said. “And it comes at a good time because we are growing a ton and that doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.”
Vigeant added that this mission leads to an all-encompassing kind of intensity.
“We have a big responsibility,” he said. “We’re all in this for something more, which is our drive to develop potential cures and for change. It's a top priority for us and when you work here, you feel that every day.”
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