In September of 2015, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has named the 100 recipients of its Influential Leaders Awards, and among them are two IE alumni. One of them –Elisabet de los Pinos, is Founder and CEO of Aura Biosciences.
Elisabet, or Eli as everyone calls her, works in the field of research. Her company specializes in molecular biology and has developed a treatment against ocular (uveal) melanoma that will start clinical testing at the start of 2016.

Born in Spain, from an early age her dream was to create a medicine against cancer. A dream in which her father, a doctor, played a large part. “He had always believed that genetics and molecular biology were going to change the future of medicine,” she recalls. And that made a big impression on Eli, who is now playing a part in that change.

Her company is based in Boston, an important center for medical innovation. Her company, Aura Biosciences, is testing synthetic viruses to fight cancer. This artificial copy of a virus has the ability to attach itself to tumors but not normal cells. The idea was developed by a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. John Schiller. Aura started to work with him with the idea to deliver medicines using these viruses, which are not infectious. “In this way you can use a toxic drug, but direct it only to the tumor,” says Eli.

The company is about to start clinical testing in 2016. Normally this phase would last seven years but since Eli’s company is dealing with an uncommon kind of cancer, ocular melanoma. For rare disease, like ocular melanoma, the Food Drug Administration (or FDA, the regulating body in the US) usually allows the process to be faster. In this case Eli predicts that the clinical research will last around three years.

When asked about her MBA at IE, she says it rounded out her professional profile. “Since I had a very academic training, it gave me the basic business tools to build the company. In reality, most companies have a similar setup.” But not just that. It was at IE that she met Martin Varsavsky, her professor, mentor and later investor. He was also the first entrepreneur in the technological sector that she had met. He had also started a biotechnology firm and Eli thought, “I want to do the same.”

The first office Eli had was on Varsavsky’s premises. “I was surrounded by techies and I was the only person who was talking about mice,” she jokes now, although she stresses the importance of having a model to follow. She appreciates the award she has just won, but qualifies it: “Receiving a prize is lovely, but whether or not you’re an influential leader or not is all very relative and it requires a lifetime commitment,” she says… and smiles again.

Interview by Pablo G. Bejerano