Sarah Boyce—Ionis

Sarah Boyce chose her career steps by watching colleagues who inspired her.

Sarah Boyce
Company: Ionis
Title: SVP and Chief Business Officer

After graduating with a degree in microbiology, Sarah Boyce didn’t head for a job in the lab. “I’m actually very clumsy, and a clumsy microbiologist is a bad thing,” she said.

Instead, she hopped on a train to start a self-training course as a Merck & Co. sales rep, and from there, she chose her next career steps by watching colleagues who inspired her.

“I had a wonderful sales manager, and I thought, ‘I think I could do sales management,’” she recalled. And that sentiment carried her over to into marketing and beyond.

All of Boyce’s commercial experience—and Big Phama experience, too—was set aside at Ionis, a small biotech company where she currently serves as chief business officer. The company “kind of had the vision to take someone with very broad commercial experience and building out businesses, and actually put me in a completely new role,” she said, calling it “a pretty brave move” that has “worked out tremendously well.”

Boyce dove head first into tasks she’d never done, such as handling corporate communications and managing the biotech’s alliances, which include key partnerships with Big Pharmas such as AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biogen and Novartis.

And those are just a couple of the different hats she may wear in a single day.

It’s a degree of diversity that Boyce really enjoys, she says, and one unique to the biotech space. It’s a “smaller, much more entrepreneurial environment where everybody has to do everything,” which presented a major cultural shift for the Novartis and Forest Labs veteran—but a welcome one.

“It’s more [like] you’re building the plane while it’s getting ready to taxi out of the gate,” Boyce said of biotech. “I love the environment where you can be very much thinking through real strategic challenges and then rolling up your sleeves and actually doing things.”

One colleague who’s helped her transition? Ionis Chief Operating Officer Lynne Parshall, who Boyce calls “the master from a business development perspective.”

She’s “someone who knows it better than I think anyone else in the industry,” Boyce said.

Parshall is just one on a list of “tremendous” female mentors Boyce has had throughout her career; that list also includes XTuit CEO and Takeda veteran Deborah Dunsire. And to Boyce, it’s important to pay it forward. 

“That’s something that I do very, very much—I support all our top talent, but in particular, our top female talent,” she said, recounting what she recently told a woman who became a VP at Ionis. 

“You have to bring people up, you have to go out and find people to mentor,” Boyce told her. “You have a responsibility now.”

Sarah Boyce—Ionis
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