12 women leading the life sciences movement in Silicon Valley

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12 women leading the life sciences movement in Silicon Valley

Breakthroughs in genetic engineering, 3D printing, cloud-based science experiments, A.I. and machine learning technology have created a weird and cool new kind of cutting-edge biotech that goes beyond pharma into what just a few decades ago seemed like magical thinking.

And women are leading the charge in this brave new world, especially in Silicon Valley.

While there are plenty of women throughout history who’ve contributed to life-changing science, we wanted to bring your attention to some of the amazing work of female founders up and down the peninsula..(and a few beyond).

Presenting the women rocking life sciences in startup land.

Note: this gallery has been updated since it’s original publish date April 7, 2016. 


Jennifer Doudna, CRISPR and Caribou Biosciences

Jennifer Doudna is one of the inventors of CRISPR Cas9 technology — or the ability to edit our genetic code. It was her research that led to the development of this radical new technique and it’s one of the key reasons for the biotech revolution.

The Harvard-educated Doudna may be up for a Nobel Prize for her work this year, along with co-inventor Emanuelle Charpentier.

She also teaches chemistry and molecular biology out of UC Berkeley and is part of the founding team of two significant biotech companies — Editas and Caribou Biosciences (though there’s an on-going patent dispute between the two over the rights to use the precise gene editing technology Doudna helped bring to fruition).


Isha Datar, New Harvest, Clara Foods and Muufri

Isha Datar has been at the center of some of the most innovative life science startups in Silicon Valley, including as CEO and president of cellular agriculture startup New Harvest, as co-founder of Muufri, a startup making milk without cows and part of the founding team at Clara Foods, which makes eggs without chickens.

Datar has been a pioneer in the field of cellular agriculture since 2009, when she began a deep-dive investigation into the technical challenges and opportunities involved in producing cultured meat. In 2010 Datar published “Possibilities for an in-vitro meat production system” in the food science journal Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies.

A stint in policy and public affairs at GlaxoSmithKline illuminated for Datar the cooperative relationship between nonprofits, academia and companies in translating beneficial science out of the lab and into society.

She also has a BS in cell and molecular biology from the University of Alberta and a Masters in biotechnology from the University of Toronto.


Jessica Richman, uBiome

Jessica Richman is the founder of uBiome, a startup that uses big data and citizen science to understand the human microbiome. Basically, Richman wants to know how your gut bacteria affects your overall health.

Her team takes a look at what you put in your body over time using samples of your poop you send using a home testing kit. uBiome researchers then compare the findings to the latest research to let you know what’s going on inside your guts.

The Stanford and Oxford educated founder is a Fulbright scholar and has worked for Google, McKinsey, Lehman Brothers, the Grameen Bank and a few of the top Silicon Valley venture firms before founding her own startup.


Elizabeth Iorns, Science Exchange

Elizabeth Iorns is the founder and CEO of Science Exchange, the co-director of the Reproducibility Initiative and a part-time partner at Y Combinator.

Iorns has a PhD in cancer biology from the Institute of Cancer Research (UK), and before starting Science Exchange in 2011 was an assistant professor at the University of Miami (where she remains an adjunct professor).

Iorns has received a range of honors and recognition, including the Kauffman Foundation Emerging Entrepreneur Award, one of Nature Magazine’s “Ten People Who Mattered,” and one of WIRED’s “50 Women Who Are Changing The World.” Elizabeth is focused on the development of innovative models to promote the quality and efficiency of scientific research.


Cindy Wu, Experiment

Cindy Wu is a co-founder of Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research that hopes to encourage citizen science.

Wu figured out a way to reengineer an enzyme treatment for anthrax bacteria using a videogame while in grad school at the University of Washington. However, after approaching her professor about funding the research, she was told there wasn’t any funding for this type of thing unless she was a tenured professor. So she dropped out of grad school to build Experiment, a Y Combinator-backed startup.

“Experiment is creating a world where anyone can be a scientist,” Wu says.


Ryan Phelan, Revive & Restore

Ryan Phelan wants to bring back the Woolly Mammoth using ancient DNA. She is the executive director of Revive & Restore, a startup working to enhance biodiversity through the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species.

Ryan currently serves on the board of directors of the Personal Genome Project, which aims to sequence and publicize the complete genomes and medical records of 100,000 volunteers, in order to enable research into personalized medicine.

In 2005 Phelan launched DNA Direct, the first medical genetics company to focus on bringing personalized medicine to the consumer market. The company was acquired in 2010 by Medco Health Solutions (with over 55 million Medco members) to provide pharmacogenetic testing services and clinical support focused on drug/gene interactions.

In 2001, she was co-founder and director of the ALL Species Foundation, a global science initiative to discover all life on Earth in 25 years. It led to the online Encyclopedia of Life, which so far has collected web pages on 925,000 species.

In 1995, she founded Direct Medical Knowledge – a consumer health website unique for its content depth and an innovative search interface that was acquired by WebMD in 1999. DMK’s content became the backbone of WebMD’s consumer health site.


Beth Seidenberg, KPCB

Beth Seidenberg is Kleiner’s MD turned biotech investment expert. The VC firm uses Seidenberg’s expertise to find good deals in life science and digital health.

She notably led the investment in cancer immunotherapy startup Flexus Biosciences, which went from zero to more than $1.2 billion in profit in less than two years (a source tells us Kleiner holds a 30 percent stake in the deal).

Seidenberg spent nearly two decades prior to her role at Kleiner working in operating roles at pharmaceutical companies Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. She also holds a medical degree from the University of Miami.


Rachel Haurwitz, Caribou Biosciences and Intellia Therapeutics

Rachel Haurwitz studied at both Harvard and UC Berkeley, where she holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology. She also helped found two fast-growing biotech companies working on the groundbreaking CRISPR Cas9 technology and, at 32 years of age, she is currently both president and CEO of Caribou Biosciences, which uses CRISPR genome editing technology to allow scientists to engineer nearly any part of any genome.


Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe

Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder of 23andMe, one of the world’s largest databases of individual genetic information.

She founded the company with Linda Avey (also listed in this gallery) in 2006 with the hope of empowering consumers by giving them access to their own genetic information and creating a way to generate more personalized information with the aim of helping commercial and academic researchers better understand and develop new drugs and diagnostics.

23andMe’s platform has the ability to conduct  many genome-wide association studies at once, which could reduce the time and money needed to make new discoveries.

The Yale-educated Wojcicki also has a background in health investments and says getting access to and understanding her own genetic information had always been one of her ambitions.


Linda Avey, 23andMe and Curious

The other half of the founding team at 23andMe, Linda Avey went on to co-found Curious in 2011, an online platform collecting data from sensors, wearables, trackers, apps, social media and biometrics to explore our health.

Before venturing into startups, Linda spent over two decades working in the pharma/biotech and biomedical research field, directly interfacing with scientists who sequenced the human genome to protein biochemists mapping the proteome. She claims those experiences as motivation “to create new and disruptive research strategies.”


Piraye Beim, Celmatix

Piraye Beim is the founder and CEO of Celmatix, a personalized medicine company that uses big data and predictive analytics to help women understand their fertility.

Celmatix is headquartered in New York City but has partnered with Silicon Valley based 23andMe recently to discover the link between fertility and genetics.

Piraye founded Celmatix in 2009 after five years of research and 200,000 cycles of clinical data on fertility treatments.

Before that, Piraye conducted her postdoctoral research at Cambridge University on the molecular genetics of mammalian infertility, which led her to believe there was an industry-wide need to rethink current medical approaches to fertility.

Piraye received a PhD from Weill Cornell Medical College and a BS/BA in Molecular Biology from University of Texas at Austin. She has been named to Crain’s 40 Under 40, recognized as one of Inc.’s 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2014 and honored as a NYC Venture Fellow by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.


Reshma Shetty, Ginkgo Bioworks

The Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks may be on East Coast ground, but the startup engineering microbes to produce a rosy smell or make alternative sweeteners launched on Silicon Valley soil at Y Combinator – and has taken quite a bit of funding from the West Coast (more than $54 million to date from various investors, including OS Fund and Data Collective).

Reshma Shetty is one-half of the founding team at Ginkgo and has been active in the synthetic biology field for more than a decade before leaping into her own biotech startup.

She’s also a founding member of OpenWetWare.org, a wiki for the free sharing of information among biological and biological engineering researchers.

Shetty has a background in computer science and earned her PhD in biological engineering from MIT.