Title: Vice President, Preclinical Manufacturing & Process Development
Serendipity took Hanne Bak to Regeneron, the company where she has spent her entire career and where she now serves as vice president of preclinical manufacturing and process development.
“I happened to fall in love with an American and he lived in New York City,” the Denmark native said. “I moved there and then I got a map and marked a radius of how many miles I was prepared to commute.”
That radius included Tarrytown, New York, about 30 miles north of New York City and home of Regeneron. “I have been here since 2004. I like to say I was born and raised at Regeneron,” she said.
Educated in Denmark, Bak refers to herself as one of those geeky kids that loved everything in school. She fell in love with organic chemistry in high school and figured she should pursue that as a career and have the humanities and other subjects as hobbies. “After all, who does science as hobby,” she asks with a laugh.
Finding pure research too confining, it was important to her to apply science, so she started looking around at the budding biochemical field. She landed at Regeneron and slipped easily into preclinical manufacturing and development.
“We develop manufacturing processes for Regeneron’s experimental drugs and then the commercial processes later,” Bak explained. “It is that bridge of translating science that can be produced in a factory. I like to say we link the continuum of pure science with binary science.”
When she started at Regeneron, Bak says the work was more “aspirational, but you could see all components were there. The mission was clear to start with discovery and go through to commercial,” which the biotech did with its first drug, the blockbuster Eylea. It then applied the blueprint to products like next-generation cholesterol fighter Praluent and eczema fighter Dupixent, developed and sold under a collaboration with Sanofi.
As far as her own progress through the company, she has not found gender a hindrance. She came to her job with an outlook developed in a country that promotes gender equality with education and day care support. “I never questioned that I couldn’t do what I wanted and that has helped,” she said.
In fact, Bak doesn’t believe a binary view of gender is helpful. “People are so diverse that putting them into two buckets is bad for both," she said.
She has not had formal mentors along the way and as a newer company, Regeneron does not have a mentoring program. She said she has always asked for and given honest feedback. “I am a student of human nature and I believe that if you ask questions and listen carefully, you can learn from anyone,” she said. “If I admire someone and they have a skill set that will help, then talk with them.”
While she has reached a position of real authority at the company, she believes that when employees are learning and have a sense of accomplishment from making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, any role will be a rewarding one.
She has that and more in her life, including the humanities she so enjoys. “I am married to an actor and theater director and have the life like I wanted," she said.