As the daughter of a professor of food science at Cornell, I have been driven towards science and engineering since childhood. My parents always emphasized the importance of math, science and engineering—in fact, the annual Sciencenter Egg Drop contest in my hometown of Ithaca, New York, was a staple in the Rizvi household that we prepared for with enthusiasm (and won most years). Since completing my undergraduate studies in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Cornell and subsequently my Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northeastern, my interest has translated into a passion that has taken me to major pharmaceutical companies and biotech startups. Though these opportunities were unique, they all proved the constant importance of mentorship in my career field.
I was privileged to have mentors and role models who guided me toward science and engineering. While the number of women joining the ranks in the field is increasing, the overall numbers are still relatively low. My own experience inspired me to help other women in my field gain access to valuable professional opportunities. During my time at Cornell, I was a member of the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE) and I wanted to establish a similar avenue for women engineers at Northeastern. A fellow graduate student and I co-founded Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (G-WISE), an organization focused on the advancement of women in science and engineering at the university. I often still attend G-WISE events and serve on panels from the position of a mentor helping guide young women in the same manner in which I once benefited.
My first foray into the biopharma industry was as a postdoctoral fellow at Merck. I was initially excited for this opportunity because it would allow me to experience the robustness of industry research, but what ultimately resulted from my research at Merck would catapult my career in ways I hadn’t expected. We all now know of the potential of RNA therapeutics from the recent breakthroughs with COVID vaccines. But at the time, RNA therapeutics, and even more so RNA as a small-molecule drug target, was just emerging as a novel research area. I had an amazing opportunity to work in this largely uncharted area with mentors across a range of departments and disciplines who guided my work and encouraged me to collaborate both internally within Merck and with the external academic community. It was cutting-edge, transformative work that could potentially address an unmet medical need which led to several high-impact publications. On a personal level, I had offers to join several biotech companies that had launched in this space. Without the mentorship I received on a scientific and personal level, I would not have been successful in my fellowship and navigating my career trajectory. I am still in touch with many of the mentors I learned from as a postdoc and continue to learn from today.
Given the interest in the field of targeting RNA with small molecules, I was invited to speak at conferences organized around this scientific area. At one such conference, while presenting my Merck research, I met Rachel Meyers, former SVP of Research at Alnylam and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Third Rock Ventures (TRV). We began discussing the work she was then leading at TRV to build a company focused on targeting RNA to develop novel therapeutics—this concept would later evolve to become Faze Medicines.
Soon after, I joined TRV as a senior associate to be part of the founding team that launched Faze. This experience has allowed me to have a deep influence on the company’s scientific direction while also working to develop and advance the organization’s strategy. I’m proud to have played a role in beginning groundbreaking research at Faze while also influencing the company’s focus on diversity and continuing the growth of mentorship in the biotech industry. We purposefully engage with scientists and leaders in the field that represent a diverse range of backgrounds and professional experience. By valuing both the opinions of academic and industry professionals, we are a biotech company that approaches problem solving with rigor and intellectual diversity. I appreciate having colleagues who serve as natural role models by offering valuable guidance and being thoughtful in highlighting people’s strengths allowing other leaders to have complete ownership of our work. Without their mentorship and leadership by example, I would not have the same opportunities for growth and visibility and be empowered to be a key decision maker at Faze that drives the science and company forward. While our industry has become more heterogenous in recent years, there is still a need for female mentorship. As someone in my position I feel a responsibility to be approachable to other women and young people in the field. Like those who have mentored me, I hope my work and role at Faze can help positively influence others working in this industry and perhaps pave the way for the next generation of females in engineering and biotech.
Noreen Rizvi, Ph.D.
Head of R&D Strategy and Operations, Faze Medicines
Noreen Rizvi, Ph.D., serves as Head of R&D Strategy and Operations at Faze Medicines. She was named one of Business Insider’s “30 Leaders Under 40 Changing Healthcare in 2021.” Noreen was most recently a Senior Associate at Third Rock Ventures (TRV) where she was on the founding team of Faze and helped with business development efforts across the TRV portfolio. She was previously a Senior Scientist at Siemens Healthcare where she worked on diagnostic assay development and a postdoctoral fellow at Merck Research Labs where she focused on targeting RNA with small molecules as an innovative effort to treat a wide range of diseases across therapeutic areas.
Noreen earned her B.S. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northeastern University. She currently resides in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband and son.