The Life of Dr. Leen Kawas: Biosciences, Outreach, and Entrepreneurial Leadership

There are moments in life when we know that we are destined to do something specific. For Dr. Leen Kawas, that moment came when she was watching her grandmother struggle with Alzheimer’s. Watching her grandmother struggle with the gradual deterioration of the disease made her want to find a solution for others in the future.

After attending Washington State University and earning her Doctorate in Molecular Pharmacology, Dr. Leen Kawas would have to choose between academics and a potential career as an entrepreneur. Spurred on by academic mentors, Dr. Kawas would turn to the entrepreneurial field by establishing Athira.

Far and Ranging Field of Work

Equipped with her doctorate, Dr. Kawas would find herself spearheading several developmental projects during her Athira tenure including Fosgonimiton (ATH-1017). As the company’s leading drug candidate, Dr. Kawas helped to foster growth in the research and development phase of ATH-1017 prior to her departure from the business.

The success of Athira was made apparent despite many of the hurdles that Dr. Leen Kawas had to face along the way. Many entrepreneurial startups in the biotech sphere have to overcome financial hurdles and failed clinical trials, often causing businesses to wait upwards of 10 years before a drug ever hits the marketplace.

Despite the far-ranging approach that the market dictates, Leen Kawas was still able to generate more than $400 million at Athira through its IPO in 2020. Prior to leaving Athira, Joe Harding said that her “impeccable performance as Athira’s CEO” should not be minimized or forgotten, despite her departure from the company.

Looking to Life After Athira

After departing from Athira, Dr. Kawas would work in concert with investor Richard Kayne as they worked to launch Propel Bio Partners in 2022. As the Managing General Partner, Dr. Kawas works on a global level to target investments in the life science sphere, often prioritizing entrepreneurs so as to recognize them as experts while providing financial resources.

Kawas said of her new role as a global managing partner, “I always wanted to have a bigger impact on our industry. Things have been going really well. We’ve been making investments in companies, a lot of great founders are out there.”

Despite her success with Propel, Leen Kawas almost found herself working at a couple of different companies. Kawas had been offered a trio of other job offers from firms looking for new leadership at CEO. Despite her interest in those opportunities, Dr. Kawas had a history with Richard Kayne and would quickly set up a face-to-face meeting with the individual.

After meeting with Richard Kayne, Kawas and her family would relocate to Los Angeles where they could be centralized and in the action on a day-to-day basis. Leen Kawas said of her new job that the goal felt different and it was due to what Kayne had said, “You’re not taking a job. You are a partner.”