Dr Deborah Rathjen

After completing its first (and second) commercial deals in the middle of last year, Carina is now rapidly transitioning from CAR-T discovery company to an emerging clinical stage company.

Carina is led by team a trio of remarkable women who have made their careers in science commercialisation – Chair, Dr Leanna Read, CEO and Managing Director, Dr Deborah Rathjen, and Head of Business Development, Dr Jane Rathjen.

Deborah Rathjen is an experienced and respected leader in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries here and overseas. She has achieved in excess of $800 million in deals including partnerships with Merck & Co., J&J (AbbVie), Celgene, Nycomed (Takeda), Merck KGaA and Chiesi Group.

She is the recipient of numerous awards and honours including being named by The Australian in the Top 50 Most Influential Business Women in 2015 and the Woman Executive of the Year at the BioPharm Industry Awards in 2014.

An immunologist by training, Dr Rathjen has extensive R&D experience in the areas of infection and immunity, inflammation, oncology and neuroscience. She remembers becoming interested in immunology at the end of high school, when she wrote a “huge” essay on Burnett’s clonal selection theory on how antibodies are made and what antigens they get made to.

“My early interest in science quickly became focused on immunology and a fascination with the body’s ability to adapt to the challenges of fighting infection,” remembers Dr Rathjen.

She completed her science degree at Flinders University with honours in immunology, then her PhD at Macquarie University in Sydney. After post-doctoral studies at the Kolling Institute for Medical Research, she took her first job in 1988 in Sydney with one of Australia’s first biotech companies, Peptech, as an immunologist before moving gradually into the commercial arena.

She was co-inventor of Peptech’s TNF technology and leader of the company’s successful defense of its key TNF patents against legal challenge, which led to very lucrative licensing deals on products that sell in excess of $15b p.a.

After 12 years at Peptech, in 2000 she moved with her husband David and their three children back to Adelaide, joining Bionomics where she helped the company gain global recognition for its multiple drug candidates and targets in the therapeutic areas of cancer, anxiety, depression, PTSD and Alzheimer’s Disease.

During her 18 years at Bionomics she also played a significant role in shaping the Australian life sciences industry and is one of the few women to have broken through the glass ceiling of the industry in the Asia Pacific region.

She joined Carina Biotech as CEO in July 2020, and things have moved very quickly since.

“Carina is an exciting company with a unique set of technologies that enlist the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This technology results in specifically engineered immune cells called CAR-T cells that are serial killers of cancer and they represent a radical new approach to cancer treatment. The pace of progress has been outstanding as Carina has secured its first commercial deals and is now preparing its first program for clinical trials,” says Dr Rathjen.

As well as leading Carina Biotech, she is currently Executive Chair of US-headquartered company Bioasis Technologies, an inaugural member of the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, and a member of the Biomedical Translation Fund Committee. She is a past chair of Australia’s biotech industry organisation AusBiotech and board member of the CRC for Cancer Therapeutics.

Dr Rathjen says: “I am driven to see new and more effective treatments reach patients, particularly in the therapeutic areas that impact brain health and function and that fight cancer and I enjoy helping other entrepreneurs achieve their goals. I believe in giving back to the ecosystem to build a stronger life sciences sector.”

Dr Jane Rathjen

Working closely with Carina’s CEO is Head of Business Development Dr Jane Rathjen, a familiar face in the Adelaide biotech and commercialisation sphere, having worked for Adelaide Research & Innovation, the commercialisation company of the University of Adelaide for nearly 15 years including three years as deputy director.

A PhD-trained scientist, Dr Rathjen moved quickly into sales and business development after leaving university. She worked in Carina’s start-up days as it achieved impressive early growth including securing nearly $3 million in government funding and investment.

Jane is a Director (and Vice President) of Football SA and past Chair of the Football SA Women’s Advisory Group where she oversaw the embedding of the women’s and girl’s competition within Football SA, including an increase in participation and establishment of the licensing structure of the Women’s National Premier League.

She was involved with the establishment of and sits on the board of the Yitpi Foundation, which encourages and promotes research and education in the fields of crop science, and the linguistics and studies of the cultures of Australian Indigenous people, particularly in relation to land usage.

When she’s not working or attending board meetings, Jane enjoys running and playing tennis and spends most of her free time driving her two children to various sporting activities across Adelaide.

Dr Leanna Read

Casting an experienced and knowledgeable eye over Carina’s activities is its Chair, renowned biotechnology and commercialisation expert Dr Leanna Read, whose CV takes a while to read.

Leanna is former chief scientist of South Australia (2014-2018), the first woman to hold the position, and has a wealth of executive, board and investment experience. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious local and national awards including and winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Central Region, Technology category) 2011 and South Australian of the Year (Science & Technology) in 2006.

Trained as a physiologist, she founded and was managing director of Adelaide biotech company TGR Biosciences. She has also led a number of other successful research and commercial ventures.

“Back in the nineties, women CEOs were sparse on the ground, but biotechnology in SA does has a strong tradition of female leadership and we are delighted that three of our four management team in Carina are women,” reflects Dr Read.

She is currently Chair of Carina Biotech and another Adelaide biotechnology company TekCyte, Independent Chair of the SA AgTech Advisory Group and a board member of CureCell, RSPCA SA, Playford Memorial Trust, Uniseed Venture Capital and others, as well as a member of the Federal Government’s Biomedical Translation Fund Committee.

Her most recent appointment is Chair of Health Translation SA. She is also a long-standing member of the angel investment network, BioAngels/Southern Angels.

Leanna was also Chair of the highly successful CRC for Cell Therapy Manufacturing, from which Carina and TekCyte were spun out.

Dr Read is known for being a balanced, fair and insightful chair and board member and is widely respected within science and biotechnology circles in South Australia and nationally.

When Leanna isn’t working, she is a very keen and experienced road cyclist, often out on her bike well before the sun rises. She also enjoys cooking, which she relates to being back in the laboratory again!