Julia Owens - Millendo Therapeutics

Julia Owens
Company: Millendo Therapeutics
Title: CEO

Millendo shifted its ambitions this year from a one-product acquisition target to a specialty pharma with a pipeline, led by CEO Julia Owens.

Among a vanguard of women at the top of biotech companies, Owens in January not only grabbed an exclusive license to an AstraZeneca candidate for polycystic ovary syndrome, but also picked up $62 million in Series B funding, the largest VC round for a drug development company in Michigan history, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.

With that broader new focus, Owens’ company changed its name to Millendo from Atterocor, which had begun as a spinoff from the University of Michigan in 2012 with an experimental compound to treat adrenal cancer, ATR-101, now in Phase II trials.

As part of the step-up in financing, biotech vet Carol Gallagher is switching from an independent board seat to a new role as chairperson, while Tracy Saxton of the Roche Venture Fund is also joining the board.

And with three women now on the board--including Owens in addition to Saxton and Gallagher, that gives women a 60% majority on Millendo’s board. The company’s management team includes a female VP of clinical operations as well, Marianne R. Plaunt.

That gender diversity is something Owens sees as important to the industry--and all too rare, despite some advances that biopharma has made toward diversity, she told FierceBiotech as part of an industry survey on gender diversity in early 2016.

“Some progress being made ... but it's still moving too slow, especially at the senior management and board level,” Owens wrote to us. “As a female CEO (with a 60% female board and majority female employee company), I almost never feel blatantly discriminated against, but I am in a clear minority when I am at investor conferences.”

As Owens noted, Millendo’s workforce puts women in the majority, and she has expanded that team of people over recent months with the help of the new VC funding.

That $62 million in backing is also helping fund a slate of new studies, including the ATR-101 Phase II and the next round on MLE4901--formerly AZN4901--the in-licensed PCOS med.

The new company name reflects both its history and new ambitions. Its prefix Mill- is in honor of Millie Schembechler, the late wife of former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who died in 1992 of adrenal cancer. Millendo co-founder Gary Hammer is the Millie Schembechler Professor of adrenal cancer at Michigan.

The suffix -endo is a nod to the company’s focus on endocrine disease treatments.

Before taking the reins at Millendo in 2012, Owens worked in development and strategy at the biopharma Lycera. She previously headed business development at QuatRx Pharmaceuticals and also worked in business development at Tularik. Owens holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, San Francisco, with an undergrad degree in chemistry, molecular and cellular biology from UC, Berkeley.

Julia Owens - Millendo Therapeutics