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Julia Brown: Biotech Pioneer, Angel Investor and Girl Scouts Honoree

Not many people can boast the honor of being both a biotechnology industry pioneer and being named one of the “cool women” by the Imperial Council of Girl Scouts.

But Julia Brown calls the latter honor one of her most humbling and unexpected.

As one of San Diego’s most successful women in biotechnology , having served in top leadership roles at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly; San Diego’s first life science firm, Hybritech; and the Elan-acquired Dura Pharmaceuticals, among others.

Brown started her career doing basic research on antimicrobials in the early 1970s, but moved to the business side of life sciences quickly, holding positions such as executive vice president at Amylin Pharmaceuticals and director of worldwide marketing at Hybritech.

Today, Brown serves as advisor to Amylin’s chief executive officer, arguably among the area’s most successful biotechs with two diabetes drugs on the market. She is also a Tech Coast Angel , one of the few women in the exclusive, invite-only group that invests into local startups.

She is a member of the board of Trius Pharmaceuticals, Texas-based Tanox Inc. and of Washington-based MediQuest Therapeutics Inc. as well as the business advisory board of CovX Pharmaceuticals.

She also serves on the board of directors of the La Jolla Institute for Molecular Medicine, the Veterans Medical Research Foundation and the UC San Diego Foundation.

As Brown was expected to deliver the keynote address at the Association for Women in Science conference recently, the San Diego Business Journal asked for her views on the region’s biotech industry, past, present and future.


Q. What was it like working at the region’s first life science company, Hybritech?

A. “It was definitely an amazing group of people. There is no question that the people there are the same ones who have started many of the life science companies here.”


Q. What do you look for when considering investments as a Tech Coast Angel?

A. “I led a due-diligence team for Tech Coast Angels in 2006, which led to the investment of a company that focuses on the discovery of antibiotics, Trius. So even though TCA focuses largely on high-tech startups, my interest is still in health care there.”


Q. The biotech industry is 30-plus years old. Where do you see the industry here in another 30 years?

A. “There has been a therapeutic focus for many years, but the focus will shift to industrial bio and agriculture-related bio. New sources of biofuel based on renewable sources and agriculture will be very important. So will agriculture, as it helps meet needs for biofuel, but also ensures the world’s food supply. We’re only recently starting to get large numbers of drugs on the market. It’s incredibly rewarding , it’s the ultimate reward.”


Q. At Amylin, what kept the company going? At one time, stock traded under $1. Were there times you wondered if there would be a light at the end of the tunnel?

A. “Amylin’s story is nothing short of a miracle. (Around 1998), a round of clinical trials with disappointing results left Amylin to make layoffs, and its big pharma partner pulled out. The company almost folded. But the then-CEO Joseph Cook, (now chairman of the board), almost made it his moral and ethical obligation to get these drugs approved. I came in as the company was preparing to submit (them) to the (Food and Drug Administration).”


Q. What do women in bioscience need to do to stay competitive and make themselves as valuable as their male counterparts?

A. “I don’t know that I would say anything different to women than men. All of us need to make sure to keep our skill sets current.”

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