26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Erica Whittaker, UCB Ventures

Erica Whittaker is head of Belgium-based biopharmaceutical company UCB’s corporate venture capital subsidiary. UCB Ventures is a €150m ($168m) fund launched in 2017 that invests in early-stage startups developing therapeutics focused on immunological aspects of neurodegenerative and musculoskeletal disorders.

Jean-Christophe Tellier, UCB’s chief executive, said: “At UCB, we connect science and patients to create innovative solutions addressing severe diseases in neurology, immuno-inflammation and bone. We established UCB Ventures to help us to learn about and from the most innovative science that has the potential to shape the future of medicine.

“Erica has been instrumental for establishing us in the world of CVC fast and effectively, as well as for nurturing our reputation as a strategic investor rooted in a deep scientific understanding and with a passion to maximise value for patients around the world.”

Among the highlights from the past year Whittaker is most proud of is having built the strategic unit from scratch, “where none had existed previously within UCB, with two direct investments – series A in gene therapy (StrideBio), seed in cell therapy (Rinri) – and a well-regarded international team based in London, Brussels and Boston,” she said.

Whittaker said the unit was an agile investor. “Our speed and decisiveness earned us a place in the series A investment syndicate for StrideBio, a next-generation gene therapy company based in Durham, North Carolina, for which I am a board director.”

In 2019, the unit will invest in and contribute to more biotech startups developing technology that can have a significant impact on UCB’s patients in the future. UCB Ventures’ investment activities will be expanded in the process to include disruptive digital health technology developers.

The unit hired Alicia Irurzun-Lafitte in March this year as a partner based in Boston who will scout and conduct US-based deals in collaboration with UCB Ventures teams in Belgium and the UK. She had spent nearly three years at M Ventures, the corporate venture capital unit for Germany-based drugs producer Merck Group, helping to grow its healthcare-focused portfolio and in forming spinoff companies.

Other venture partners are Fiona de Hemptinne, former head of the EU Bone Business Unit at UCB who joined the unit in March 2018, and Emmanuel Lacroix, former senior director of global business development of UCB who took up the unit’s offer a year earlier.

Before joining UCB Ventures, Whittaker had spent seven years at UCB, having held three different roles. She was hired in 2010 as vice-president of strategy and partnering of NewMedicines, a drug discovery program through clinical proof of concept, where she instigated and ran the UCB-Harvard Research Alliance. In 2012, she ascended to member of NJB corporate strategy team which was vital in forming UCB’s patient value strategy. She became head of market access and pricing in Europe, Middle East and Africa in 2013 and set up regional patient access and pricing strategies.

Concurrently, Whittaker has also chaired the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries Association’s Healthcare Systems Working Group.

Before UCB, Erica had spent a decade as an equity analyst at financial services firm Merrill Lynch, where she led financial, valuation and commercial analyses for publicly listed biotech and pharmaceutical companies based in Europe.

Whittaker, who was selected to participate in the Women in Bio Boardroom Ready Program in 2018, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and comparative literature from Brown University, a PhD in molecular biochemistry from University of Edinburgh and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University Business School.