Priya Singhal, M.D., M.P.H., was named Head of Development at Biogen in January 2023, after serving as interim Head of Research and Development. Priya joined Biogen twice, first in 2012 as Vice President Clinical Trials and Benefit-Risk Management and again in 2020 as Senior Vice President of Global Safety & Regulatory Sciences as well as Research & Development for China and Japan. Both times she came for the opportunity to make an impact.
When Priya was first contacted by a recruiter in 2012 for a position at Biogen, she said she was not interested in making a move but agreed to meet with Carmen Bozic, M.D., who, at the time, was Biogen’s Global Head of Safety, and Benefit-Risk Management.
“Carmen told me that if all of Biogen’s plans moved forward, I would have the opportunity to contribute to five programs for people with diseases of high unmet need.”
She recalls leaving that meeting excited by the opportunity but thought to herself, ‘best-case scenario, three of these products will be approved.’ In the end, all five were approved, and Priya has been involved in the approval of three more products since then.
“Biogen has the legacy of making the impossible possible,” she says, “and it all comes down to the dedication and deep expertise of the people who work here.” In 2020, when she returned to the company, she was excited to work directly with Alfred (Al) Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D. Both Al and Carmen have left Biogen but continue to be mentors to Priya.
Stepping into Al’s shoes as interim Head of R&D and then being named Head of Development by Chris Viehbacher, CEO, within months of his taking the reins at Biogen has been a tremendous honor, she says. “The responsibilities are enormous, but I know that we have strong science and strong teams moving our portfolio forward and focused on tackling some of the biggest medical and scientific challenges that humanity is facing today.”
Priya grew up in Mumbai, India and trained there in medicine. In 1995, she came to the United States to accompany her husband Aneesh who was pursuing a Neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. She describes her journey to biotechnology and drug development as “completely serendipitous.” After conversations with mentors and people she admired, she decided to “give it a shot.” And she has not looked back since.
Her career, however, did not follow a linear path. Like many women trying to balance the responsibilities of a career and family, she found herself at a crossroads early in her career. When she came to the United States, her husband was busy doing his residency, so she made the decision to take a break to be home with their 2-year-old son. She spent almost ten years at home raising her son and then later, a daughter. During this time, she completed her U.S. Medical Licensing Exams and received a Master of Public Health in International Health at Harvard’s School of Public Health. On graduation day with her children in tow, she accepted her diploma with one hand while holding her young children with her other hand.
“I have no regrets about taking the time off. I cherished the moments with my son and daughter, and I was able to witness the milestones that I had missed before.”
Her advice to anyone facing a fork in the road is to “go where the heart takes you, because usually that's the right way.”
When Priya re-entered the workforce, she initially took a job in data entry and quickly rose through the ranks. She learned early to never say “no” to an opportunity or challenge – which she considers interchangeable. From individual contributor early on in her career, to a leader of a large organization, she believes that caring is non-negotiable: caring for the people she works with but also about the mission of the work. She describes herself as a team player who is data driven, objective and fair. “The business of drug development is a team sport, so having the right people around you really matters. It takes a village,” she says.
And part of that village includes the “amazing mentors” who have guided her at key inflection points in her career. Their advice and encouragement led her to explore different opportunities and do things that she would never have considered on her own. She now pays this forward by speaking to students and team members whenever she can because she knows that sometimes just a 15-minute conversation can make a difference in someone’s career.
From clinician to partner and parent, to biotechnology leader, three words Priya says describe her both personally and professionally are: committed, bold and fun. And as for bucket lists, she doesn’t believe in waiting for the ‘right’ time: "I’ve had many friends and family members who never had the chance to check things off their bucket lists,” she says. “If you have something you want to do, whether personal or professional, do it now.”