Making connections and raising the bar for pharma
Danielle Portnik on building community in healthcare (1,282 words, 6 minutes)
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Danielle Portnik has a passion for healthcare and life sciences. The Regional Business Director, International at Ambry Genetics, believes building community is essential to creating a more equitable sector. Almost two years ago, she transitioned from pharma into the life sciences and genetics area and says the experience has been rewarding.
Her current role, her first leadership position outside the pharmaceutical industry, focuses on genetics and personalized medicine. Speaking on the first episode of Season Nine of the NPC Podcast, Portnik (photo below) talked about Ambry Genetics and the organization's work. “[It’s] a genetics company that excels at translating scientific research into something clinically actionable in genetic test results. This comes from a really deep understanding of the human genome, the biology behind genetic disease, and what we’re doing to move that into the future,” she says.
Ambry Genetics was founded in 1999, Portnik says, and has built a global reputation for best-in-class clinical interpretation of genetic variants: “The company will not stop until human disease is understood. With genetics being as complex as it is, that might take us some time. But we’re incredibly focused and continue to collaborate across academic and corporate pharma partners to find those links through those synergies that allow us to move that bar. Ultimately, especially in genetics, every patient matters.”
Portnik is also the co-founder and Canadian board chair of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA). She calls this role her passion project and her “baby” over the last two years. She says the HBA is a global nonprofit established in 1977 and includes members from the entire healthcare spectrum.
“It’s focused on thinking about how we get to a position where we have gender parity in leadership,” she says. “We have equitable practices that enable organizations to take advantage of the individuals and the women, specifically within their organizations. [It] facilitates different business connections and other opportunities that are going to enable that career growth.”
She says the HBA is focused on celebrating the organizations that mobilize for change. She also says members of the nonprofit have worked hard to build a community, a word that she uses intentionally. “There are a lot of networks out there, and I think we would be remiss to just fall into that. We’re trying to build a group of individuals who know each other beyond their nine to five,” she explains. “[Individuals] who understand how, when, and where they can support each other to move the bar and move things forward to ultimately give that career leap or push that enables them to take on that next challenge or excel in that next risk.”
In addition to her roles at Ambry Genetics and HBA, Portnik is also an SDZ Mentor at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly Ryerson University. SDZ stands for Science Discovery Zone and is a multidisciplinary incubator focused on fueling innovation and entrepreneurial discovery among students.
This role, once again, is about building community by bringing like-minded people together and growing talent, she says. It is also focused on helping students make contact with companies that could help them in their entrepreneurial enterprises. “It's been great in terms of gaining perspective,” she said. “We are building the next generation of incredible leaders and organizations.”
THIS WEEK 02/21/23
Heart & Stroke, Brain Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health announced the launch of new awards to support Black researchers in Canada. The Personnel Awards for Black Scholars will promote Black representation within the heart and brain health research community.
Fresenius Kabi’s Stimufend (pegfilgrastim-fpgk), a biosimilar to Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), is now available in the U.S. for patients at risk of febrile neutropenia, a side effect of some anticancer drugs.
The U.S FDA has granted Priority Review for Pfizer’s supplemental new drug application for Talzenna (talazoparib) in combination with Xtandi (enzalutamide) for the treatment of men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The FDA’s decision comes after the announcement of positive data from the Phase 3 TALAPRO-2 study.
Ferring Pharmaceuticals announced that Rebyota (fecal microbiota, live – jslm) is now available in the U.S. to prevent the recurrence of Clostridioides difficile infection in adults.
In season nine of the NPC Podcast, Karl Frank, managing director at Bayshore HealthCare, talks about empowering leaders in the workforce, maintaining community in digital culture, and the value of continuing education. Hear him in conversation with podcast hosts Mitch Shannon, Jim Shea and Mark McElwain.
CANADIAN HEALTHCARE MARKETING HALL OF FAME
The Canadian Healthcare Marketing Hall of Fame awards were established in 2002 to honour healthcare marketers who have contributed to our vocation and inspired others.
More than 100 honourees have been selected during the past 18 years. In the selection committee’s view, they represent a cross-section of the qualities that make our business unique and fulfilling. NPC Healthbiz Weekly will acknowledge one past Hall of Fame Honoree each week.
Eileen McMahon, Partner at Torys LLP and the Chair of its Intellectual Property (IP) and Food and Drug Regulatory practices, is Canada's foremost lawyer in the life sciences. When she first started practicing law in 1987, McMahon sought an area of specialty that would let her draw on her Bachelor's in Chemistry and Biochemistry and got her start by working with early Canadian biotechs in the IP and drug regulatory area.
McMahon attributes her involvement and success in the life sciences to the Pharma industry clients she says she’s been fortunate to work with. “The reason [Pharma] is so rewarding for me is that you are working on the latest and greatest in terms of innovation,” she says. “Pharma should be the darling of the world right now because of the incredible inroads it has made with vaccines and its ability to bring innovative products to the market so quickly. I’ve been honoured to have been involved with this industry.”
Although McMahon started in IP, she says the role has evolved into an advisory one for executives and in-house counsel within Pharma. Today, she takes pride in the strong trust she’s built with her clients.
“Generally speaking, no one wants to talk to a lawyer,” she says. “Clients reach out when their backs are against the wall, and they know what they say to you will be held in strict confidence. The fact that they can confide in us and express their worries about a particular issue...I'm so fortunate that they can call me in those kinds of situations.”
While helping clients was McMahon’s inspiration, her family’s support empowered her to reach even higher in her career. “How many men are really comfortable with a spouse who’s a high-powered executive, who works long hours, and can’t always help on the home front because of client expectations?” she asks. “The fact that I have a husband who is so secure, so supportive, and kids who recognize they have a mom who's a working mom, [has taken me] really far.”
As a child of immigrants, McMahon was encouraged to strive from an early age. “My mom, in particular, who died when I was 18, gave me the best gift you could ask for,” she says. “She convinced me I could do anything. I had three brothers, and she would say to me, ‘You can do anything your brothers do—if not better.’” McMahon says her mother endowed her with a “fearless ambition” that continues to drive her forward.
Resilience is both McMahon’s motto and what keeps her going. “We all have bad days, where you go home with your tail tucked between your legs, and you’re thinking, ‘Can I do anything right?’ But it makes you resilient, you dust yourself off, you learn from it, you become better, and your family still loves you and your friends still love you.”
“I was told early in my career, ‘You’ll never make it on Bay Street.’ Well, how wrong was the person who told me that?”
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