Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Joining Editas Medicine in 2013 was the right opportunity at the right time for Charlene Stern.
“I wanted to help shape a new company with a new technology into a future world of game-changing medicines for people living with diseases previously thought untreatable,” the now executive vice president and general counsel says.
Editas is leveraging CRISPR technology to develop gene editing and cell therapy medicines for a broad range of diseases for which there are currently few or no treatments available — including ocular diseases, sickle cell disease, transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia and cancer. The company currently has a handful of in vivo and ex vivo therapies in discovery to mid-clinical development with partners such as Bristol Myers Squibb on board.
Editas’ quest to disrupt the status quo of what’s possible with gene therapies is keeping Stern fired up, she says.
“Every day there are new questions to tackle, and this drives me to seek out what we can do next,” she says.
As a lawyer with a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, Stern has a deep understanding of the science behind the company’s work, which is vital in executing Editas’ strategy. Nominators say they appreciate her ability to stretch beyond siloed legal, scientific or intellectual property points of view, and think strategically about each angle while seeking to understand how all the pieces fit together. One nominator notes in particular how Stern approaches each challenge as if a “chess match met a puzzle.”
“Biotech is never-ending problem solving all with the goal of helping patients in need of new medicines. I could not think of a better way to dedicate my career and inspire others to join the cause of helping people.”
Executive vice president, general counsel, Editas Medicine
Stern says what gets her going every day is problem solving — dealing with complex issues that don’t seem to have an apparent solution and require her to peel back the onion, considering each layer independently and deciding what angles work best for potential solutions.
“Biotech is never-ending problem solving all with the goal of helping patients in need of new medicines,” she says. “I could not think of a better way to dedicate my career and inspire others to join the cause of helping people.”
Her self-ascribed leadership style is to focus on open communication and trust, allowing her team to handle big issues.
“I believe that how you do anything is how you do everything,” she says. “With my team, we empower and inspire one another to tackle and solve anything that comes our way and do so in a very supportive environment.”
Editas’ colleagues credit her for being an integrator with exceptional emotional intelligence. They say her vision for the company, her various responsibilities that extend beyond the traditional general counsel role and her strong leadership capabilities, coupled with an unrelenting passion for the technology, science and patients, are truly inspirational and — in essence — make her “the nerve-center of the organization.”
Stern is a believer in investing in the success of others. She’s an active mentor, champion and sponsor for those within and outside the organization.
“I view paying it forward as a daily goal, not something that you do from time to time,” she says. “I see evolving and future leaders all around me, and it is all about helping them open doors to new opportunities.”