invest in themselves in that way.” She
got married. She wrote a book about
women’s empowerment. She was preparing to spend two years sailing with
her husband—and then discovered she
Pelletier was shocked. Doctors had
always told her she couldn’t get pregnant; now she was 37 and, clearly, they
had been wrong. To Pelletier, the pregnancy felt fated. But this was not what
her husband had signed up for. “When
someone isn’t up for that, it’s kind of a buzzkill,” she says.
She told her husband she was having the baby. He could stay
or leave, whatever.
Within three years, Pelletier had a toddler, a divorce, and
her dream job. In 2009, she was recruited for a role that
directly addressed what had been tugging at her all these
years: founding CEO of WomanCare Global, a nonproft that
enables sustainable access to contraceptives in the developing world. She couldn’t imagine doing anything else—until
she got a call in 2013 from an executive of a small health care
company called Evomed who was looking for some help
marketing and commercializing a new contraceptive gel
called Amphora. “My frst reaction was, ‘I’m fattered. Now
please lose my number,’” says Pelletier.
But once she started researching Amphora, she couldn’t
stop thinking about it. Evomed was working on products
in dermatology, pain relief, and menstruation, and had
licensed Amphora from Rush University in Chicago.
Amphora was in a Phase 3 clinical trial—generally the last
hurdle before a drug is submitted for FDA approval (see
“How to Survive the FDA,” facing page).
Pelletier agreed to a three-year consulting arrangement in
THE RESULT 9. 6
which she’d write a business plan for the company, raise money,
recruit talent, and prepare Evomed for an IPO. In return,
Evomed would allow her to keep her position at WomanCare
Global. But more important, Pelletier managed to negotiate
terms that could help her scale and accelerate her mission:
Once Amphora was through the FDA gauntlet, Evomed would
sell it in North America and Europe, but it would also give it to
WomanCare Global to distribute in the developing world on a
Eighteen months in, it became clear to Pelletier that
Amphora might never become a blockbuster drug as long as it
had to compete for attention within a small conglomerate that
had a smattering of unrelated products. She didn’t think
Evomed’s employees had the necessary experience in wom-
en’s health, or the ability to work at the pace she demanded.
“It was everything and the kitchen sink,” she says of the opera-
tion. “No one was focusing on Amphora as the golden child.”
She approached the board with an unexpected proposal:
spin Amphora out into its own company and formalize the
relationship between the new startup and WomanCare Global
as a public-private partnership—with Pelletier running it all.
Not everyone liked the idea. Pelletier says one of Evomed’s
bankers and its lawyers objected to her proposed dual role.
The way Pelletier saw it, “if I were a man and I said to you that
I’d built this amazing nonproft, and then started working to
advance another product that could really help the human
condition, you’d say, ‘Oh, my god, what a great human being,’ ”
she says. “But because I’m a woman, you suggest I can’t
manage it all.”
Meanwhile, some of her staf at WomanCare Global
weren’t crazy about the proposal either. Pelletier was
equally blunt with them. She pointed out that it was becoming
increasingly difcult for nonprofts to fnd donors. There
weren’t many private-sector companies willing to partner
with nonprofts, which they often derided as being flled with
bleeding hearts who can’t make good business decisions. “If
we can get access to this product that we all believe is game
changing and we don’t do it, then shame on us,” she said.
When skeptics accused Pelletier of going back to the dark side,
she reminded them: “More money, more mission. Period.”
Pelletier became the founder of Evofem Biosciences,
focusing exclusively on Amphora. She persuaded Evomed’s
original investors to stay on board, took zero employees with
her, found new ofce space, and hired her own team, which
included commercialization pros from major drug compa-
Six people were dead, and
among them were the only
people who could help her
understand the trial on which
Amphora’s fate hinged.
Percentage of drugs that enter
clinical trials and are eventually
approved by the Food and Drug
Administration. SOURCE: AMPLION
$648 MI LLION-
2. 6 BILLION
The estimated cost of bringing a new drug to market.
SOURCES: JAMA IN TERN MED, TUFTS CENTER FOR THE S TUDY OF DRUG DEVELOPMEN T
The estimated years it takes
for a drug to get from research
to market. SOURCE: PHRMA