Milos advances genomics innovation, this time on home turf

IMPROVED INDUSTRY: Patrice Milos, left, president and CEO of Medley Genomics in Providence, speaks with Niru Chennagiri, director of informatics. Milos said she’s seen improvement in the number of industry women in science with Ph.D.s. / PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
IMPROVED INDUSTRY: Patrice Milos, left, president and CEO of Medley Genomics in Providence, speaks with Niru Chennagiri, director of informatics. Milos said she’s seen improvement in the number of industry women in science with Ph.D.s. / PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

Patrice Milos, president and CEO of Providence startup Medley Genomics, is no stranger to Rhode Island. Although she’s lived here since 1989, until a few years ago she had never worked in Rhode Island.

Previously, Milos had been commuting from her home in Cranston to Claritas Genomics in Cambridge, Mass., a now-defunct genetic diagnostics lab spun out of Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was also president and CEO.

Before that, the New York-born Milos headed up the Boston site for Pfizer Inc.’s Centers of Therapeutic Innovation, where she led partnerships between academic institutions and medical centers. Other positions at Pfizer and Helicos BioSciences allowed her to explore new opportunities in genomics and medicine.

But the Ocean State – where Milos has founded Medley Genomics, raised seed money and achieved an exclusive license with Brown University – is a great place for this kind of innovation, she says.

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“[Gov. Gina M. Raimondo] really understands life sciences and what kind of innovation economy could be here,” she said.

In addition to now being an opportune time for Medley Genomics’ brand of innovation – developing genomic-analysis tools to decipher the highly individual layers of data in biological conditions such as cancer as part of developing targeted treatment – it’s a good time for women in the field, Milos said.

She’s seen improvement in diversity: The number of industry women in science with Ph.D.s has balanced out more in comparison with men, for example, especially over the past few years.

“Maybe it’s driven by business needs, particularly in the last few years as goals and strategies have emerged, this ability to attract and retain talent, regardless of race, gender, culture, sexual orientation,” Milos said. “Companies are measuring metrics more, so we’re off to a good start.”

But more women are needed on the executive level and to serve on scientific boards, she said.

As for Milos, she doesn’t attend professional events that don’t include female speakers or panelists anymore.

In her view, and in the view of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and other scientific professional groups, novel ideas and strategies come from a diverse pool of thought and backgrounds. And things are getting better, with more organizations seeing value in what women bring to the table in terms of multitasking, financial impacts and more.

Milos’ high-level career has not been the only one in her household.

She is married to Curt Spaulding, the former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region I (New England), and a former longtime executive director of Save The Bay. Now a Brown University professor, Milos said she and Spaulding had to work together, along with two child care providers who have become like family, to juggle careers while raising their son and daughter, who are now in law school and medical school, respectively.

“With pretty amazing career opportunities, you do it with a lot of help from those around you,” she said. “I am so fortunate. I tried to be home for dinner every night and never work on Saturdays. You can’t make every sporting event, but you make the ones that are most important.”

Family time spent sailing or skiing was another priority, said Milos.

“Family gives us perspective in life,” she said.

Like the partnership with her husband allowing them both to accomplish more, Milos sees benefits of partnerships in her industry, and says such alliances have become a major strategy in the field. She says with technology and science advancing so quickly, pharma can’t do it all. New, innovative approaches to diseases by partnering with academic medical centers, such as Medley Genomics has with Brown, are the way of the future.

Academic medical centers, she said, bring new, innovative approaches to diseases, while pharmaceutical companies know how to move quickly with new ideas and get them into the pipeline on their way to market. But these partnerships, like others, must make sense for both sides and the community, she pointed out.

“It’s all about alignment with a company strategy, and does it fit or not. What’s the benefit to each entity, and how does that fit within a portfolio?” she said.

Meanwhile, with Milos at the helm, Medley Genomics is fitting into industry ideas on what’s needed in the field.

It won the grand prize in the Pistoia Alliance President’s Challenge last fall, which included $20,000, mentorship, as well as research and development resources. In March, the company was the pick over 200 startups as one of nine companies to participate in the Philips HealthWorks Startup Program, focused on oncology. In May, it was awarded Phase 1 funding in the form of a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Cancer Institute for $299,670. The grant will support Medley Genomics’ software platform to customize treatment based on the unique ecosystem of a cancer patient’s tumor.

“My passion is seeing more women in the field,” said Milos. “We really can offer the potential for diversity in the [science, technology, engineering and math] fields.”