Business & Tech

Ironwood, new biotech both get women as board chairs

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals
Marsha Fanucci will chair the board of Cyclerion, which is expected to be spun out of Ironwood later this year.

The Massachusetts biotechnology industry, which has drawn criticism for having too few women in leadership positions, will soon have two women running boards of directors.

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge biotech best known for its drug to treat irritable bowel syndrome, and Cyclerion Therapeutics, a new firm being spun out of Ironwood to focus on rare diseases, will each have women chairs by mid-year, according to a company announcement Thursday.

Ironwood’s chair will be Julie McHugh, a veteran of the biopharmaceutical industry and former chief operating officer for Pennsylvania-based Endo Health Solutions. She has been on Ironwood’s board since 2014.


The chair of Cyclerion, which is expected to be spun out of Ironwood in the first half of 2019, will be Marsha Fanucci. She has held several executive roles at local drug companies, including Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Genzyme, and had been on Ironwood’s board since 2009.

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The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade group, has been among those that have criticized a lack of gender diversity in the booming industry.

In January 2017, MassBio got 100 life science leaders to sign a pledge to promote gender diversity. That fall the group released a 142-page report — billed as the most comprehensive study of women in the industry — on why gender inequality persists, especially in leadership ranks. The study concluded: “The answer is that the system is broken.”

In Massachusetts last year, women held only 14 percent of the seats on life sciences company boards and ran only a quarter of the firms.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at