Leen Kawas: Championing Patient-Centric Drug Development and Fostering Diversity

In the ever-evolving biotechnology landscape, Leen Kawas is a beacon of innovation, tirelessly championing patient involvement and promoting diversity at every turn. Her remarkable journey from a pharmacist driven by personal loss to a pioneering entrepreneur and advocate for inclusive drug development has left an indelible mark on the industry.

Leen Kawas’ passion for healthcare and her unwavering determination to alleviate human suffering took root at a young age when her grandmother’s battle with cancer ended in tragedy. This profound experience ignited a fire within her to pursue a career dedicated to finding cures and preventing others from enduring the same heartache.

After earning a degree in pharmacy and briefly working in the field, Leen Kawas’ thirst for knowledge and desire to make a more significant impact propelled her to embark on a new journey. She emigrated to the United States in 2008, earning a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, laying the foundation for her future endeavors.

In 2014, Leen Kawas co-founded Athira Pharma Inc., assuming the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Her visionary leadership was instrumental in advancing multiple drug development programs, leading to a successful initial public offering in September 2020 that raised over $400 million. This remarkable achievement underscored Leen Kawas’ unwavering commitment to driving biotechnological advancements and her exceptional ability to navigate complex business landscapes.

Throughout her tenure at Athira, Leen Kawas was a steadfast advocate for increasing diversity in clinical trials and amplifying patient voices throughout the drug development process. She firmly believed that adequate clinical trials hinged on including diverse patient populations, reflecting that “we are human, we are diverse.” By embracing diversity in clinical trial management teams and patient selection, Leen Kawas sought to achieve more accurate and impactful outcomes that benefit humanity.

Moreover, Leen Kawas recognized the invaluable insights that patients can offer in shaping the development of life-changing therapies. Years ago, she and her colleagues conducted patient feedback sessions to understand the reasons behind drug failures, incorporate patients’ voices into clinical trial design, and improve outcomes. This groundbreaking approach acknowledged the vital role that those directly affected by diseases can play in guiding the development of effective treatments.

After her departure from Athira, Leen Kawas co-founded Propel Bio Partners in 2022, alongside Richard Kane, a major investor in her previous venture. In this new role, she plays a pivotal part in enabling the firm to provide crucial financial and technical support to start-up and early-stage biotechnology companies, nurturing the next generation of innovative solutions.

As Leen Kawas continues to blaze a trail in the biotechnology industry, her vision for the future remains firmly rooted in her commitment to patient-centric drug development and fostering diversity. She aspires to invest in companies that develop global technologies to enhance human health, ensuring that their life-changing innovations are accessible to all, regardless of geographic or socioeconomic barriers.

With her indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication to amplifying patient voices and promoting inclusivity, Leen Kawas is a true pioneer in the biotechnology industry. Her remarkable journey inspires those seeking to make a lasting impact on the world, demonstrating the power of perseverance, empathy, and a steadfast commitment to driving positive change.