Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Abigail Jenkins’ nominator vividly remembers the encounter that made it clear Jenkins was a unique business leader — down to the day. It was Oct. 3, 2017, her nominator says, and Jenkins was the chief commercial officer at Aquinox, a Canadian biopharma. The pair had met in Los Angeles to interview and film a patient chronicling her difficult and painful journey struggling with interstitial cystitis (IC).
At the time, Aquinox was developing a drug for IC, which it was hoping would become the first FDA-approved drug targeting IC in decades. The patient’s ordeal with IC was harrowing, and she had been misdiagnosed by six doctors before finally finding an answer to her chronic symptoms.
Afterwards, Jenkins’ and her nominator headed to lunch to debrief — but instead of digging into their project’s documents, budgets and timelines, the pair fell into a deep conversation about the patient’s story. Two hours passed, and Jenkins’ nominator says she then understood how deeply Jenkins cared about her work.
“Our discussion about [the patient] was not an idle one,” her nominator says. “In the months following, I would learn that [Jenkins] connected [the patient] with the leading patient group in the space. I also saw [the patient] at an FDA advisory committee meeting because [Jenkins] had provided her with honoraria to fly across the country and provide testimony to that group.”
Jenkins’ approach to leadership and the belief that “empathy is leadership” has served her well during her career in pharma business and commercial operations. In addition to commercializing at least six assets while at companies such as MedImmune and Relypsa, she was also instrumental in rebranding Pfizer’s Norvasc US, which helped the drug regain a top market position.
Most recently, while working as chief commercial and business officer at Lyndra Therapeutics, Jenkins helped the company accelerate a path towards commercialization for its disruptive LYNX drug delivery platform. Rather than developing novel molecules, Lyndra is focused on creating long-acting oral formulations of existing medications to reduce the frequency of dosing — a game-changing breakthrough for indications with higher rates of patient non-adherence.
Lyndra’s lead candidate is a weekly — rather than daily — oral capsule for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder preparing for pivotal trials. The company also has a biweekly malaria medication and an oral weekly treatment for opioid use disorder in phase 1, and clinical candidates in the pipeline for other psychiatric conditions.
“At Lyndra, [Jenkins] led critical components of corporate strategy, including building the psychiatry franchise and portfolio prioritization in establishing commercial, corporate communications,and business development functions at the company,” a nominator says.
“I mentor over 20 folks, formally and informally, within the industry. When I’ve been asked what I want my legacy to be, I’ve always said that I want to be someone that others feel positively impacted their life in a way that transcends proximity.”
Former chief commercial and business officer, Lyndra Therapeutics
Although Jenkins has plenty of wins to boast about, her nominator notes that she’s not a “fair-weather leader.” In the face of challenges — including a phase 3 failure for one drug candidate and an FDA rejection of another — she’s built successful teams and driven progress.
“[Jenkins’] team weathers the storm with resilience and team members valued the time they spent working with her,” Jenkins’ nominator says.
“I am a catalyst — leading organizational transformation through clarity, connection and courage,” Jenkins says.
Team building is also a key priority for Jenkins who’s focused on hiring employees of all backgrounds, with an eye toward all types of diversity and equality, including gender parity.
No matter what task is before her, Jenkins relies on her sense of empathy to guide the way.
“Empathy is what ‘gut instinct’ is from more of a female perspective,” Jenkins once said in a workshop of (mostly) male CEOs. “I don’t have trouble making decisions quickly. Even if the information is gray or you don’t have all the information, you have to make a decision based on whatever data you have. Right or wrong, you’ll be on the hook. But I’ve always thought through the implications with empathy.”
Editor’s note: Jenkins recently left Lyndra for another executive biotech role that will be announced soon.