Newton Lecture Series: Kathleen Glaub


April 21, 2015


By Jay

“I’m glad to be back,” said Kathy Glaub as soon as she stepped on stage. Glaub is the CEO of Afferent Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company. “Cal is the best university in the world,” she added. And she has gone to many universities; “I know a little about this,” she said.

The advisor and investor talked to a crowded audience of students about her experience in the corporate world. She grew up with four brothers and a father who lovingly teased her, which she believes prepared her for the industry. “Growing up in a big family, you do a lot of experiments and it fueled my discovery and interests,” she said. The Alumni also spoke about her love for discovery, science, and learning, and about the past, present, and future of biotech companies.

Glaub talked about her stories of success and highlighted some of her lessons in the biotech and pharmaceutical world, such as the importance of creating targeted drugs, which are more effective and less expensive.

After giving the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley a chance, Glaub decided that working in a pharmacy was not her dream job. “There wasn’t enough science,” she said. Still interested in the health world, she joined the School of Public Health. Later, she attended Northwestern University to pursue an MBA. That is when she took her first finance course and “totally fell in love” with it.

Looking for that frontier in Silicon Valley, she ended up at Intel, which she affirmed is a “great company to start with.” There, she worked in manufacturing finance as an analyst for the older and newest plants. “I absolutely loved it,” Glaub said.

That is why it took her six months to make the decision to leave Intel and join Genentech, which did not have any products yet. But she is glad she did. Although she was expecting a similar experience to Intel, working at Genentech was different. With a very low budget, Glaub was responsible for raising money, which led her to “deal with uncertainty” and work in an “unusual environment.”

Her journey later took her to Cell Genesys, which worked with gene therapy and antibodies, and then to Plexxikon Inc., a drug-discovery company based in Berkeley and her “next dream.” Glaub was employer number 10 and later became the president of the company, which solves structures and creates products in multiple therapeutic areas, such as melanoma. She said that working at Plexxikon, a small startup back then, was “the most exhilarating experience.”

Glaub showed some of the most groundbreaking clinical trial results, such as the effects of an oral drug against pathologic cough. She also discussed the changes that the pharmaceutical world has gone to the last decades. Glaub shared with the audience the problems of drug regulation and the “patent cliff,” stating that the biggest challenge right now is that “rules and regulations get in the way of decision-making.”

Glaub said that there is potential in the industry for people who not only can collect data, but also analyze it in order to look for patterns and “connect the dots.”

After answering questions from the audience, Glaub concluded that the biotech industry is relatively new and that it is trying to recruit people with a finance background. “A lot of people think you need a degree,” she said, and added, “You need to have an aptitude.”