From banking to biotech - Renée Aguiar-Lucander's unique path in science

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Calliditas
© Calliditas

Related tags Women in Science Life sciences Biotechnology Life sciences companies

Renée Aguiar-Lucander, CEO of Calliditas, is driving the advancement and launch of TARPEYO – the company’s medication targeting rare disease IgA nephropathy. We spoke with Renée about her journey from investment banking to science and the joy of bringing therapies to patients.

BPR: Could you give us an overview of your work?

I joined Calliditas Therapeutics as CEO in 2017, and in this role I have led the company from a small team of just 10 people to an international biopharmaceutical company with over 200 employees. Calliditas is now a successful commercial-stage biopharma company with a pipeline of late stage novel medications to address a range of orphan indications, with an initial focus on renal diseases.

During my time as CEO of Calliditas, one of our most significant achievements came in 2023. Our lead asset, TARPEYO, received full approval from the FDA for the treatment of IgA Nephropathy (IgAN). This approval marked a historic milestone as TARPEYO became the first FDA-approved therapy for this disease with a view to significantly reduce the loss of kidney function in IgAN patients.

As the CEO, my role is focused on building highly experienced and motivated teams, moving the company towards its strategic goals, ensuring effective communication within the team, and working closely with various stakeholders to optimize performance.

BPR: When did you realize you were interested in science - as a young child, teen, or older?

I actually found science to be intimidating and frustrating in my teens, however as I started to work with talented operators and investors in life sciences, which continued over many decades, I developed my own interpretation of science and enjoyed its many facets and challenges.  So, while I didn’t initially envision a career in science, my experiences in analyzing, supporting, investing in and ultimately building and running a life science business has given me an appreciation for what is required to make a meaningful impact within a scientific context.

BPR: Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

My journey to becoming the CEO of Calliditas Therapeutics began with a strong background in financial analysis and provision of advisory services to healthcare and technology companies in both the US and Europe. I then moved on to the investing side where I spent 12 years analyzing, assessing, and investing in life science companies on a pan European basis.

Working on the investment side of life sciences allowed me to gain invaluable insights into consequences of strategic choices and challenges faced by a broad range of companies in different sectors and at varying stages of growth. This deep and broad experience across finance, competitive positioning and scientific assessment has been instrumental to my success at Calliditas – science is the foundation of life sciences, but it is also a capital-intensive business, and if you cannot raise capital to advance the science, you will struggle to advance your programs.  You therefore need a strong combination of both to achieve success.  

BPR: What challenges did you face - as a woman or otherwise - along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to participate in work related networking and social events to better understand the unwritten rules of engagement, rather than being too task oriented.  Businesses are rarely managed strictly by meritocracy so connections and relationships matter.  It is therefore important to understand the value of balanced self-promotion and networking, to be appropriately recognized for the work product delivered.  

BPR: What ignites your passion in your current role?

I am driven by making a genuine difference to patients’ lives. At Calliditas, we are committed to helping people living with rare diseases by identifying treatments that enable these patients to live longer, better lives.  To have been instrumental in bringing a medication to patients with IgAN for the first time ever is truly amazing and something I will always treasure.

BPR: What is your current work ethos/style?

I believe in hard work, agility and challenging the status quo. I also think empowering teams and fostering a culture of can do and innovation, with a clear stated strategy and objectives is key to long term success.  And importantly you have to have fun – you can’t take yourself too seriously.

BPR: Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

For young women aspiring to pursue a career in science, my advice is to believe in yourself, and prioritize building strong networks and seeking mentorship.  You can achieve a lot more than you think if you have a real passion for something.

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