Kimberly Smith—ViiV Healthcare

When Smith first joined ViiV, she led its clinical development program. When she became head of R&D, she added early development and discovery research. (ViiV Healthcare)
Kimberly Smith (ViiV Healthcare)

Kimberly Smith, M.D.
Company:
ViiV Healthcare
Title: Senior Vice President, Head of Research & Development

Kimberly Smith always knew growing up that she would go to medical school. However, she didn’t know she would be drawn to a career in infectious disease.

It was during medical school when she first realized she enjoyed trying to solve the mysteries of where diseases originate, how people get infected and, most importantly, how to get rid of them. It also just so happened to be around the same time that the HIV/AIDS crisis was on the rise in the U.S.

“I was intrigued not only from the medical and scientific standpoint, it was also the social aspect that drew me because, if you’re old enough to remember the early days of the AIDS epidemic, it was really quite ugly in regards to the stigma and the way people with HIV/AIDS were treated. Even by the medical profession at times,” she said.

She had a female patient with HIV who was doing well, but had a gynecological issue that needed attention. Smith referred her to an OB/GYN doctor who later called and yelled at Smith for sending someone with HIV to her for care, telling Smith “there are places for those people.”

That only made Smith more determined to help. She spent 20 years as a clinician and researcher at Rush University Medical Center and at Cook County Hospital (now John H. Stoger Hospital) in Chicago.

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Her research included immune reconstitution and clinical trials for HIV meds, but also health disparities spurred by the fact that Black people, and specifically Black women, are disproportionately impacted by HIV. More than half of the people in the U.S. living with HIV are Black women even though they only account for about 13% of the population.

Smith joined ViiV Healthcare seven years ago when it was only a few years old. She liked the fact that it was completely focused on HIV, and further persuaded by her former boss and mentor at Rush, John Pottage, who was ViiV’s chief science and medical officer. Last year, she took over for Pottage when he left the company.

When Smith first joined ViiV, she led its clinical development program. When she became head of R&D, she added early development and discovery research.

She is proud of the progress made by ViiV developments in both cutting down the number of medications needed by people with HIV and creating longer-acting medicines.

“When you think about where we came from in the treatment of HIV where people literally took 20 or more pills a day back in the early ‘90s to the notion that we hope to get to in two months—that there will be no more daily therapy and you can actually control the virus with injections once a month—that’s such a remarkable transformation of treatment,” she said. “I feel extremely proud to be part of that.”

That bigger impact and ability to help others is why she’s never really looked back at the switch from practicing physician to pharma company researcher and executive.

RELATED: GSK's ViiV, touting superior long-acting data, can challenge Gilead in HIV prevention: analyst

Smith is also proud of the fact that the executive team at ViiV is about half made up of women. While it's unique, Smith said she sees it as an example for all pharma and biotech companies to aspire to.

Her advice to up-and-coming women in life sciences is to never be afraid to speak up when you’re the only woman in the room. She knows what that feels like, having experienced it throughout her career.

“But I know for sure that I bring something to that discussion that no one else who’s not a woman can bring. My experience, my knowledge, my training and my passion makes my voice important,” she said. “I’ve been told over the years I was brave for speaking up, but it’s just the way I was raised.”

Kimberly Smith—ViiV Healthcare