Women Driving Change in Life Sciences: Robyn Goforth, PhD

What inspired you to pursue a career in life science?


Slightly embarrassing to admit, but I was in 9th grade when I decided my first two career choices (astronaut and serving as a scientist in the military) were not ideal choices for me. While I have always loved science, I’m not good at following orders without lots of questions about “why”. Exploring chemistry was my next choice and I haven’t really deviated from the life sciences since then. I would say that my early interest in commercialization of science comes in part from my early experience as a graduate intern in the drug development unit of a large pharma company. During one high level meeting that I was sitting in on, I was pretty sure a fist fight was going to break out between the scientists and the business experts because it was as if they were speaking two different languages and couldn’t easily see the point of the other group.

Can you provide an overview of your academic background and professional experience in life science?

I hold a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Arkansas, where my research focused on peptide and protein drug structure and design. Following my Ph.D. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship and worked as a Research Professor at the University of Arkansas. In 2006, I joined VIC Tech as part of the opportunity assessment team. I currently serve as Vice President of BioPharma for VIC Tech’s affiliated incubator VIC Foundry and continue leading assessments across the Life Sciences spectrum, including therapeutics, medical devices, and life science instrumentation.

In addition to my role at VIC Foundry, I hold development positions at two portfolio companies. I am the Chief Scientific Officer at BiologicsMD and the Vice President of Research & Development at Neurexis Therapeutics. In these roles, I lead R&D activities and Investigational New Drug (IND) efforts, while also playing a significant role in securing funding. BiologicsMD is currently raising its first institutional round and I currently serve as Principal Investigator on two NIH Phase II grants to Neurexis Therapeutics. Overall, my primary area of expertise encompasses the translation of therapies from the research bench to clinical application across a diverse range of drug modalities and indications.

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues facing the life science industry today, and how do you see yourself contributing to addressing them?

There are some interesting questions about how to best fund early-stage life science development, including drug development. Is the “valley of death” shrinking or just moving to later in drug development pipeline? How do we (as a society) increase our success rate at choosing the best drugs to move into the clinic? What can we do from a regulatory standpoint to make drug development more cost effective? How do we encourage approval of new antibiotics and antifungals when the traditional business model may not work? A lot of these issues are well beyond the scope of any one individual to make a significant change, but many of our opportunity assessment activities at VIC are aimed at figuring out some of these challenges. At VIC Foundry (vicfoundry.com), when we see promising technologies that aren’t quite ready for even early-stage investment, we can work closely with the inventors and institutions on R&D to make the technology a more compelling investment opportunity.


Diversity and inclusion are important in any field. Can you speak to your experiences as a woman in the life science industry and any challenges or successes you've encountered?

At VIC, we recognize that diversity and inclusion are not just important but critical factors in scientific advancement and commercialization. Focusing solely on a limited range of perspectives can lead to missed opportunities. Fortunately, there's a growing recognition within the investment community that a wider range of viewpoints strengthens overall portfolio performance and I have personally seen improvements in this over the course of my career. This principle is embraced in our opportunity assessment process, where we understand that the 'why yes' and 'why no' questions are crucial, but so too is the breadth of perspectives considered.

What advice/guidance would you provide to current or future women entrepreneurs in the life sciences, both as an investor and a senior executive?

It’s ok to fail, so don’t let fear of failure keep you from taking the hard/risky steps first. While it’s not ideal, it’s ok that you may be the only woman in the room where the big decisions get made. Get as comfortable as you can with it as that’s just how it is for now. Find your balance of holding the line when necessary but still really considering hard to hear feedback.

As an investor, you’ll always focus on a strong value proposition. Investors are backing companies that solve significant problems and have a clear path to commercialization. That said, I personally look for opportunities with diverse points of view not only in their management but in their commercialization plan. For example, BiologicsMD recognizes that the societal impact of androgenetic alopecia can be significantly different between men and women.

If you have an interest in entrepreneurship or early-stage life sciences investment, but aren’t sure how to approach it, I encourage you to just start with whatever space you are comfortable with. Maybe it is reading LinkedIn posts, or watching a VIC or VIC Investor Network webinar, or applying to the VIC Fellowship program. At worst, you’ll likely learn something new and at best you’ll open up a new world of opportunity.