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McMurry-Heath to lead Biotechnology Innovation Organization

Former FDA official will be the third top executive to head the association and the first with a medical degree


May 22, 2020
By Walt Williams

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization turned to the corporate sector to find a scientist and former Food and Drug Administration official for its next CEO.

The $87 million-revenue BIO announced May 14 that Michelle McMurry-Heath will lead the association as president and CEO, starting June 1. She will succeed former Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), who has led the group since 2005.

McMurry-Heath will be BIO’s third CEO since its founding in 1993. She most recently was vice president of external innovation and global leader for regulatory science at pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer goods manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. She previously served on the Obama administration’s Science Transition Team before being appointed associate director for science at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health from 2010 to 2014.

“With her exemplary scientific background, proven federal health policy leadership and track record of driving scientific progress to benefit patients, Michelle is the right person at the right time to lead BIO and the biotech sector into a new future,” Jeremy Levin, chairman of BIO’s board of directors, said in a statement.

McMurry-Heath is a molecular immunologist who was the first African-American to graduate from the Duke Medical Scientist Training Program. She was a founding director of the Aspen Institute’s Health Biomedical Science and Society Policy Program and was senior health policy legislative assistant to former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

BIO represents various segments of the biotechnology industry, although pharmaceuticals remain a central focus. The association has turned to top executives with political experience—Carl Feldbaum, chief of staff to former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was BIO's first leader—but McMurry-Heath will be the first CEO with a medical degree. The group has recently been emphasizing the role of pharmaceutical companies in developing treatments and a possible vaccine for COVID-19.

“As these clarifying times have shown, society will rise or fall on the ingenuity of our scientists, the vibrancy of our innovative ecosystem, and the personal courage of the men and women working day and night to bring cures to patients, food to tables and relief to our environment,” McMurry-Heath said in a statement. “I want scientists, clinicians and innovators to hold their heads high knowing they are addressing the most important issues we face today.”

Current CEO Greenwood announced last year he planned to step down sometime after the 2020 general elections. BIO didn’t say why he was stepping down earlier than originally stated.

Executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates assisted BIO in the search.

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 22, 2020.