Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Like her father, Dr. Emil Wirostko, a uveitis specialist at Columbia University, Dr. Barbara Wirostko says she knew from an early age that she wanted to care for patients and pursue a career in medicine. After medical school, Wirostko’s nominator says she took a “leap of faith” to chase that dream in eye care.
“With a bold vision to create change in the ophthalmology space, she accepted the role of ophthalmologist at the Huntington Medical Group PC, New York, specializing in glaucoma,” her nominator says.
During the early years of her practice, Wirostko says she loved the research aspect and “gravitated toward conducting clinical research with sponsors that were conducting glaucoma studies.”
“It was this experience that enabled me to enter industry at Pfizer, thus kicking off my entrepreneurial career in drug and device development,” she says.
After leaving Pfizer and working as the chief medical officer of Altheos, Wirostko decided to be an entrepreneur and co-founded Jade Therapeutics, where she successfully led the development of a crosslinked polymer designed to treat the cornea into the clinic. Jade was eventually acquired and Wirostko was ready for her next adventure. Along with CEO Thurein Htoo, she co-founded Qlaris Bio.
According to her nominator, the two “coalesced around the concept that a comprehensive and complementary approach combining scientific, medical, business, and strategic considerations can generate new ways to help people living with debilitating ophthalmic diseases.”
Qlaris is developing an investigational therapy with its lead asset, QLS-101, currently in clinical trials for various forms of glaucoma, including glaucoma related to Sturge-Weber syndrome (SWS).
Over the past two years at Qlaris, Wirostko, now the compay’s chief medical officer, has honed her ability to delegate and become a better leader.
“It is important to help your employees as well as your volunteers feel empowered,” she says. “If an individual is empowered to feel involved and important in the process, they are likely to be more engaged and productive. Even patients when given the chance to be more involved in the decision-making process are more engaged and involved.”
“What keeps me up at night is my to-do wish list and all my ideas, which are never ending.”
Chief medical officer, co-founder, Qlaris Bio
An optimist by nature, Wirostko says her brand would be one that suggests enthusiasm, optimism and encouragement. As a runner, she says Nike’s brand resonates with her “Just do it”.
“I have always been someone who sees an opportunity and seizes the moment — the ability to just do it,” she says. “That is the mindset of an entrepreneur, the ability to be creative and get something done — not to take no for an answer.”
“Her success as an entrepreneur, experienced board member, practicing clinician and industry leader with an extensive track record of launching, managing and growing both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations,” her nominator says inspires her students, peers and colleagues.
In addition, Wirostko and her husband, Dr. Joseph Morelli, founded the Joseph James Morelli Legacy Foundation to raise awareness and advocate for people with dyslexia, a nationally recognized nonprofit.
Despite her business achievements and numerous professional accolades, Wirostko has never forgotten her roots as a doctor. To this day, one item that is hugely meaningful to her is a sign given to her by her father that says, “Dr. Barbara Wirostko.”
“Early on in my career my dad enabled me to go into the lab with him and learn electron microscopy,” she says. “He was my role model, cheerleader and colleague. He was my attending during my first surgery as a resident. That name plate brings me a smile as my dad passed away 20 years ago.”