Caravans of Biotech Immigrant Executives

Posted April 5th, 2018 in Boston Cluster, Pharma industry, Talent

Recently there’s been talk of a caravan of immigrants marching towards the United States, principally focused on Mexico and Central America.  But there’s also another caravan, this one at work in the biopharma business: the long term migration of science and technology professionals into the US-based biopharma ecosystem.

This caravan is critical if we are to successfully tackle the myriad of health issues that plague humanity: scientific exploration and drug R&D are global enterprises. In the words of MassBio president Bob Coughlin, “The greatest minds from around the world made this industry what it is and it will take the greatest minds globally to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, and the hundreds of diseases impacting human health.”

Biotech leaders have been vocal in the past about DACA and other immigration issues (here).  Seven biotechs showed the impact of immigration on their workforce last fall with these fantastic photos (here) – showing the huge percentage of their teams that have direct connection with immigration.

At Atlas, we certainly seek out the best and the brightest in our industry – and recruit from all over. Boston is a global aggregator of talent, as I’ve described in the past, and certainly helps us add gravity to our recruiting process. But we’ve never paused to take a look at the practical impact of immigration on our firm, so I decided to do a quick analysis of our CEOs.

Atlas is clearly indifferent to nationality – we, like all venture investors and company-builders, just want the best CEOs possible.  We recruit folks from all over.



As this illustration shows (with each flag representing a CEO), of the 26 active CEOs in our US-based biotech companies, 50% hail from other nationalities at birth. A few of those have since become naturalized US citizens. The UK and Canada are the big two.

As an individual partner at Atlas, I get to work closely with a number of CEOs: amazingly, of the 11 boards I serve on, 8 have CEOs who are immigrants. That’s nearly 75%.

Biotech startups, like most, are teams that go well beyond the CEO role; the leadership ranks of our biotech portfolio also reflect this global talent pool. Immigrants are a huge part of these science-led stories, as with many biotechs. It’s critical to the success of our industry. From the biotech corner office to the lab tech, science truly knows no borders.

With Washington unable to move forward a bipartisan solution to immigration reform, we’re hurting ourselves. With the failure to fix DACA, we’re leaving Dreamers behind – losing out on this important and talented group.  And with the H-1B visa program under attack, we risk losing another 85K foreign professionals annually. This program in particular is critical for STEM professions like biopharma and the life sciences more generally.

MassBio is putting on an important event next week to talk through some of these immigration issues (see link here). As distracting as it is to our day jobs, we all need to make sure we focus on ensuring immigration reform supports continued US leadership in biopharma.

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