In celebration of International Women in Science Day, Momentum Labs is highlighting inspiring women in the field of STEM who have had a positive impact on the Alachua-Gainesville region.
To honor International Women in Science Day, Anne Rathburn Favre spoke with Momentum Labs about her passion for STEM and her advice for young women entering the field. Anne serves as the CEO and President of Inspira Therapeutics Inc..
What area of STEM initially sparked your interest?
As a child, I just did what I loved and that was math and science! It was fascinating to
understand how living things work and I enjoyed the application of conceptual logic based upon
mathematical principles to figure things out.
Who has been a mentor to you in this industry or Who is a female role model in this industry?
I am old enough, in truth there simply were not many female leaders or mentors within industry
or academics. However, my parents were exceptional in that they nurtured my interest not only in math
and science, but also my blossoming leadership abilities. They ensured that books on scientists, engineers,
and other brilliant leaders were always available and somehow found their way to my reading list…Books
about Madame Curie, Daniel Hale Williams, Amelia Earhart, Gandi, Mother Teresa, Marco Polo, Ford,
Edison…all very different leaders, but inspirational and exceptional none-the-less
With regards to female mentors and role models, there have been many men and women alike that have
guided me on this journey. However, it is my professional women peers and colleagues who continue to
most inspire me to this day. Their ability to juggle work-life balance while in high performing
professional roles, while still having the grace to be incredible mothers, wives, caregivers to their parents
or extended family. Some are cancer survivors. Others have supported family and friends who were.
Many were faced with the challenges of divorce or supporting others who experienced divorced or death
of a loved one. Yet these high performing professionals somehow found the time to befriend and support
others. Whether sharing their own unique and imperfect journeys, or simply listening to others struggles,
these women continue to inspire me to be more than I think possible for they understand the importance
of the gift of support.
What project or initiative have you been a part of that you feel made a positive impact?
Interestingly, the most impactful moment of my career was working on the first protease
inhibitor to treat AIDS, but for which I was rather insignificant player. It was impactful because it was the
catalyst for how I approached science and my career going forward.
As a senior consultant at Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, I was assigned to work at Searle in
Chicago during the AIDS crisis. I was to work on the first protease inhibitor to treat AIDS, currently in
phase II clinical trials. At this time, the world had finally realized that AIDS was a universal disease
affecting all humanity…women, men, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Many had died. Many more
were ill as the world-wide HIV pandemic spread throughout humanity via human sexual contact. I was
assigned to help this team launch the drug as quickly as possible, to help get it to as many people as
quickly as possible if phase 2 went well.
Our phase 2 clinical trials had just revealed that the protease inhibitor reduced the viral shedding of
disease, and the scientific, regulatory, and patient advocacy communities waited anxiously to learn if the
clinical endpoint of reduced mortality would be realized…a potentially incredible accomplishment in the
midst of world-wide medical crisis! Having just learned of this finding, I remember flying home to
Boston pondering whether the high of this scientific and social achievement required an airplane or if I
could in fact fly home simply on my high!
30 days later, the high was replaced with the reality of the clinical results. Although viral shedding was
reduced, the morality rate was not. However, we knew we saw something…a reduction in viral shedding
so rather than abandon the product idea, a group of some of the most prestigious scientists in infectious
disease at the time, gathered to discuss and understand what a ‘reduction in viral shedding meant? They
didn’t give up but had the courage and curiosity to figure out what this unexpected result meant!
As a young scientist, I got the chance to sit at the table and take notes while some of the best infectious
disease scientists in the world pondered what this unexpected observation meant. One brilliant scientist
offered that idea that reduction in viral shedding could means a reduction in transmission. Fast forward,
the FDA fast tracked and approved the first protease inhibitor for compassionate use within months of
Why was this important to me? First, it taught me what is possible when the urgency is great and brilliant
people choose to work collaboratively without ego. However, I also learned that when you observe
something, especially when it’s unexpected, understanding the significance of the unexpected may
become one of the most important discoveries of your lifetime! It is a model and thought process to
emulate throughout a life of science, but it take courage and pernicious curiosity.
How have you been encouraged to overcome challenges in this industry?
As described in question 3 above, difficult problems can often be solved by simply observing
what is different and unexpected. However, it takes courage to figure out what it means. I don’t know that
I would appreciate the importance of that approach without seeing some of the best scientists role model
it for me.
What is your best piece of advice for young women pursuing a career in STEM
Live your dream and listen to your heart for it is only your life to live. Regarding STEM,
embrace the things you don’t expect and have the courage to find the enlightenment they offer.
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