Helius Therapeutics is taking time to reflect on Suffrage Day. On 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote.
Now 128 years on, New Zealand has its third female Prime Minister, and almost half of its Members of Parliament are female. Women leaders are also significantly represented across the business sector, with more playing leading roles in science and healthcare.
The country’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, is no exception. Not only is it New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis business to gain a GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines, but Helius is led by chief executive, Carmen Doran.
“Helius values diversity of thinking, backgrounds and experiences. This has led to us building a strong team with a very good gender balance at all levels of the business. What’s more, our sister company, Hale Animal Health, is led by Leila de Koster,” says Ms Doran.
Recent Helius appointments include Joanna Perry MNZM to its board, and Mary Alice Simon as chief operating officer. With studies showing that women make 80% of all healthcare decisions for their families, Helius is determined to ensure females, or wahine, are a key part New Zealand’s newest health journey which sees local companies about to manufacture medicinal cannabis products.
“Given medicinal cannabis is only available on prescription, doctors are also critical. That workforce too has experienced a big shift in recent years, with new doctors now predominantly female,” she says.
Ms Doran says it’s an exciting time for New Zealand’s newest sector, with opportunities to expand, employ, and export significant.
“All of the industry players are working well together to shape our sector, and yes, we all want to see more women leading the development of medicinal cannabis here in New Zealand. So far, when it comes to gender representation our sector is off to a good start,” she says.
Helius is focused on developing novel therapeutics which are safe and efficacious, with a highly experienced team to deliver. Kiwi patients have long wanted access to both quality and affordable local medicinal cannabis products. In the coming months, their patience will be rewarded.
Suffrage Day comes just days after Helius announced a collaboration with Auckland University of Technology (AUT). It will see Helius working with AUT, researching and developing advanced medicinal cannabis products.
“We are delighted to sponsor three AUT PhD students to work on the next generation of cannabis therapeutics. All three are female, and it wasn’t by design. Rather, all three just happen to be highly talented young women, the perfect fit, and with the R&D passion we need to succeed for patients,” says Ms Doran.
The chief executive of Helius is often called upon to present at industry and healthcare events, and to speak at secondary schools for girls. More recently, this has included speaking to Dunedin’s Columba College Year 12 AgriBusiness class about the medicinal cannabis sector, with the students curious about future opportunities in the new industry.
“We’re definitely seeing a gender switch in the STEM subjects, with more young women taking up science, technology, engineering and maths. Like doctors, more female scientists are now coming through, but New Zealand needs to keep that up,” she says.
Ms Doran is no stranger to science herself. As well as a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering and a degree in Mechanical Engineering, she has 15 years’ experience in the global pharmaceuticals and animal health industries.
“Just as Helius is now building an R&D pipeline to deliver new and exciting therapeutics, New Zealand needs to build pipelines of talent, starting in our primary schools. That is how we will keep moving the dial,” she says.
Last year Helius announced it was launching a second innovative business: New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis company for animal health.
The establishment of Hale Animal Health was driven by Leila de Koster, the company's co-founder and managing director. This business operates alongside Helius Therapeutics at its East Auckland headquarters.
“Hale now has premium supplement products on the market, all made from natural ingredients. Next, we will move to delivering cannabis focused products, including clinically proven animal medicines. It sure is an exciting and fast-moving sector,” says Ms de Koster.
For Carmen Doran, diversity and inclusion encompass diversity of thinking and experiences.
“At Helius, we’re bringing people together with many varying backgrounds from cannabinoid manufacturing and research to pharmaceutical systems and commerce. Diversity and inclusiveness are how we will deliver the most innovative solutions for Kiwi patients and beyond,” she says.
Helius Therapeutics is the foundation sponsor of MedCan Summit 2022, which will take place on 10 and 11 February next year at the Cordis hotel in Auckland.