Black people account for less than 12 percent of the workforce in the pharmaceutical or medicine producing industry, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Following the pioneering footstep of renowned Black chemist Percy Lavon Julian, a queer Black woman, has ventured into biopharmaceutical manufacturing.
Tia Lyles-Williams founded Philadelphia’s first Black-owned biotech manufacturer, LucasPye Bio, with a mission to make biotherapeutic drugs more affordable while providing jobs in underserved communities. LucasPye Bio, founded in 2018, is one of only seven biotech companies in the U.S. with capabilities to develop and manufacture Gene/Viral-Based Drug Products.
“Our social impact goals are heavily targeted through offering jobs and opportunities to underserved communities,” Lyles-Williams told WPVI. “Bringing down the costs of medication for patients and on the other side of that bringing down the cost of startup companies and companies with drug products.”
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Revealing how the company’s mission is being carried out, she added, “We’ve raised $50 million from Black Pearl Global Investments. $5 million of that is from them directly, $45 million is from their limited partners. We’ve accumulated enough partnerships to allow us to be open right now and to start generating income.”
Lyles-Williams said she was motivated to work in the pharmaceutical industry because they are few people who look like her, besides her desire to help make bio drugs cheaper for patients. “I also feel the pressure — pressure to execute our goals on time, internally, and also to meet the needs of the industry,” she said.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreack havoc across the globe, Lyles-Williams’ family has not been spared either. At least 12 members of her family contracted the virus, resulting in the death of five of them. “I definitely feel the pressure to help bring safe drugs to market faster. But I’m also excited about the opportunity to follow in Dr Percy Lavon Julian’s footsteps and take it to the next level,” she told Phillymag.
On the effect of the pandemic on her business, she said: “Pre-pandemic, we were on a slow road, but it was leading up to us receiving our first tranche of venture capital. When the pandemic hit, we were supposed to receive that funding, but it was pushed back to the fourth quarter. Also, at that time, we didn’t have any processes in place to specifically go after our target markets.
“So, since then, we have created an official sales cycle to recruit customers. We’re open for business in collaboration with the Jefferson Institue for Bioprocessing (JIB) and Celltheon, and we’re excited about the first tranche of investment, which will be coming down this quarter.”
As a queer Black woman, doing business in an industry dominated by white males or of Asian descent has worked both in her favour and against her. “…because of the lack of people that look like me at this level, they typically don’t take me at face value like my peers… So, it’s been working in our favour and against our favour in some ways.”
Presently, her firm shares office space in the City Centre but she is finalizing a contract to have their own official headquarters in Philadelphia.