Wendy Gabel, BS ’81, Uses Foundational Knowledge Built at GW to Propel Career in Biotech

July 29, 2020
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Wendy Gabel’s career took unexpected turns over the years. She began on a more direct path with a degree in medical technology from the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and jobs in research labs, but then took a sharp turn into biotech sales and marketing before finally arriving in her current field of investor relations.

No matter the direction in which she was headed, however, the firm foundation of education and experiences built at GW remained under her feet.

“I learned so much while I was at GW that I have taken with me throughout my career. It’s a career that has gone in so many directions – and I guess that’s true for everybody – but the foundation for the education that I got opened the doors for so many opportunities,” says Gabel, who earned her bachelor of science degree in medical technology at SMHS in 1981.

That includes a 20-year career at Biogen, a multinational biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While there, Gabel rose to become vice president of value-based medicine, vice president of managed markets and reimbursement, and vice president of investor relations, among many other positions. 
Gabel notes that when she started at Biogen, there was a lot of exciting innovation going on, including in drug development for multiple sclerosis. Biogen was launching a new drug for the disease, which at the time was not well understood and previously had just one treatment option.

“It was exciting because I got to learn about and understand a newer market and what the needs were and how we needed to interact with that patient community,” Gabel says. “We were going into these uncharted waters. Multiple sclerosis was an orphan disease at the time and there was little known about it. We got to be part of giving new treatments to these patients.”

Some of her work included supporting and educating patients on how to use the new drug – released in the form of an injectable – as well as understanding the patients’ needs and defining the marketplace. Her team also had to consider the lifecycle of the drug and future needs for the treatment. “That was a big deal for me in my career. I learned a lot through all of that,” Gabel says.

“We were going into these uncharted waters. Multiple sclerosis was an orphan disease at the time and
there was little known about it. We got to be part of giving new treatments to these patients.”

Fast forwarding in her career, Gabel says she also learned a lot from her time working in the oncology treatment market, including during a collaboration between Biogen and Genentech for the promotion of a drug called Rituxan, which was used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well as rheumatoid arthritis. 

“I ran sales and marketing for the drug and had two sales teams on the ground, one in the oncology space and one in the rheumatology space, so I was overseeing marketing and sales, training, analytics groups, and others,” she says.

It was a challenging time, and one Gabel relished. 

“Working with Genentech was the ultimate exercise in collaboration,” she says. “We were an East Coast company and they were on the West Coast. We both had different working styles and different cultures. There was some disagreement going on in some areas like finance, but we just had to do the work and do our jobs. It was one of my favorite jobs.

“People say ‘How is it your favorite? It was such a hard time and everyone was arguing,’ ” Gabel adds with a laugh. “But for me, I enjoyed the challenge, and the people I got to know at Genentech were really great and we had good relationships.”

Biogen is also where Gabel got her first taste in investor relations (IR), and also the experience she needed to help found Kendall Investor Relations in 2018, which provides operational IR services to the biotech industry.

“Now it’s all about the power of communications. We work with biotech companies that are mostly small- to mid-sized and help them communicate their science to the investor community and to the general public,” she says. “Investors don’t always get how the science will translate into value, and we help explain that.”

She adds that anyone looking to move from the bench to business shouldn’t be afraid to take that leap — and advises them to ignore any naysayers. 

“In the beginning, a lot of people told me ‘you’re a scientist, you don’t understand the business side,’ or ‘people don’t have luck transitioning.’ Don’t be discouraged. If it’s a path you want to take, someone will give you a chance. It happened for me. ”

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