Supports the African Leadership Academy and has hosted college students from Nigeria in her home
Married with two teenage boys
Favorite ski spot: Jackson Hole, Wyoming or anyplace with powder
Enjoys modern art, travelling, skiing, biking and hiking
CEO of a startup, life sciences company
Q: SO NANCY, WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING THE CEO OF A STARTUP LIFE SCIENCES COMPANY?
A: It is very exciting and fast paced. My company, Syros Pharmaceutics, is working on medicines that control the expression of genes that cause diseases such as cancer. The platform and intellectual property for the company came out of MIT and the Dana Farber. Every day I work with people at the cutting edge of science who are passionate about making a difference in patients’ lives. Building a company is full of endless challenges and rewards!
Q: WOW. HOW DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN? WHAT’S THE BACK STORY HERE?
A: Well, I trained as a medical doctor and came to Boston for my neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in the late 80’s. I was always interested in the science side of medicine and was on the path to a career in academic medicine. In 1995, while an assistant professor at MGH and Harvard Medical School, I got a phone call that changed the trajectory of my career. Biogen was looking for their very first neurologist to lead development of their new multiple sclerosis drug, AVONEX. I followed my gut (and not the advice of most) and took the position. It was so exciting to work on the first drug that actually slowed disability progression in MS patients. Discovering and developing innovative drugs is one of the most complex team sports- and I found I loved participating in and building teams. In 2001, I had the exciting opportunity to join Millennium, a pioneering genomics company, and build their clinical development organization where I was chief medical officer. At Millennium, I had the opportunity to help patients with myeloma and mantle cell lymphoma through the development and approval of Velcade, a first in class drug. I also had a unique opportunity to build an organization from scratch- with my own vision and guiding principles. Building an organization and getting a drug approved at the same time was one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors in my professional life. In 2011, 3 years after Millennium was acquired by Takeda, I decided to look for my next challenge. I wanted to find a disruptive new area of science that had the potential to make a big impact on patients’ lives and to work with a great group of people (because life is too short). I met with lots of VCs and looked at a lot of early stage companies but it wasn’t until I met the scientific founders and VCs at Syros (then called LS22) that I found what I was looking for. In November 2012, I started as the founding CEO, raised $30M in 2013, and now have 25 passionate scientists/employees progressing the science forward toward innovative new medicines for cancer and other diseases.
Q: FANTASTIC. NOW I’M CURIOUS HOW SUCH A GO-GETTER SPENDS HER DOWNTIME?
A: I love any outdoor activity; downhill skiing, road biking, and running are my favorites. I especially love to combine outdoor adventures with travel. My husband and I summited Mt Kilimanjaro for our 20th wedding anniversary, and we have taken our two boys on adventures in Africa, Europe, and Asia. I do like challenges!
Q: LASTLY, WHO BROUGHT YOU INTO SHEGIVES? WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT HER?
A: Jennifer Antolini brought me to SheGives. Jennifer’s husband, Jay Bradner, is a hematologist/oncologist at Dana Farber and is one of the scientific founders of my company. What I like best about Jennifer is her amazing ability to juggle caring for a young family, with a very busy husband (!), a full career, and always a smile.
SheGives connects committed, inquisitive, engaged donors with a slate of diligenced nonprofits in the Greater Boston area. We provide members with relevant data about the nonprofits in our portfolio and an opportunity to meet directly with our nonprofits’ Executive Directors and senior staff in small settings that promote in-depth q&a’s and, ultimately, informed giving. Giving is personally driven, but because we give side-by-side our collective impact is greater. See a list of the vetted nonprofits selected for our slate here.
WhoIsShe is a regular column featuring an appreciative but sometimes irreverent conversation with a SheGives Member.