Dr. Leen Kawas: a passion for helping women succeed

Leen Kawas
5 min readJan 13, 2022


This profile of Dr. Leen Kawas outlines her determination to see women rise in careers and business.

Across many industries, we see women with talent and drive who aren’t given the same opportunities for advancement as their male peers. What can be done to prevent this in our evolving modern world? How can leaders inspire women to push their careers further?

To help improve the prospects of female entrepreneurs, Dr. Leen Kawas has set her mind to mentoring women as they strive to make waves in the business world.

As a role model, she aims not only to provide advice but also to support other women in business with her endorsements. “We need more role models that represent women in leadership,” says Kawas. “And that’s happening for sure.”

About Dr. Leen Kawas

Dr. Leen Kawas is a notable female entrepreneur who has come into prominence by making waves in the industry. She co-founded M3 Biotechnology, which later became Athira Pharma. The work the company is doing is based on her visions, ideas and research.

Her foray into medicine began while Kawas earned her undergraduate degree in pharmacy while living in Jordan. She then moved to the United States to obtain her doctorate, selecting Washington State University where she received a degree in molecular pharmacology in 2011, according to Seattle Business. She then co-founded M3 Biotechnology in Washington State.

Biotechnology and Medicine Efforts

In the world of biotech research and development, where organizations are seeking to bring new therapies to market, competition can be quite intense. That’s largely because of the prospects of huge profits and the attendant ability to claim market share. Of course, this competition fosters more aggression as companies try to commercialize new drugs.

Not everyone thinks women are up to the challenges and that will be able to work as forcefully as men, but Kawas says, “I do not believe women are less aggressive than men. I believe we need to endorse and empower women to get to leadership and C-suite positions.”

Dr. Leen Kawas was the first female in Washington to bring a biotechnology company public. She was also one of only 20 female CEOs and founders to lead a company through an initial public offering at the time of the offering, according to Business Insider.

At M3 Biotechnology, Kawas developed the pipeline and lead therapies, which Seattle Business described as “showing promise in stimulating diseased lab rats to repair brain cells. In animal models.”

One challenge is to create clinical trials that demonstrate that a new compound works. Scientists are still debating the underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease. So, one issue researchers are still working on is how long they would need to conduct human trials, given that the disease progresses over many years.

The company also received $750,000 in grants from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund to support its research, testing and development.

Pharmaceutical industry experts are estimating the market for medications aiming at Alzheimer’s is $5 billion, per Seattle Business, indicating the competitive landscape that surrounds this growing effort to counter neurological disorders with medication.

Regarding Athira’s product, Kawas said, “It can potentially become the standard of care for physicians and patients.”

The company’s other related compounds are still in early stages of development.

Kawas was CEO and president of Athira from 2014 to 2021 and is short six years she was able to guide Athira through its IPO and develop a product to late stage of clinical development in one of the most important diseases we might face. She is still active in the industry and serves on multiple boards, such as the Alzheimer’s Association’s Chapter Board in Washington, and was the co-chair of the International Alzheimer’s Association Business Consortium.

Dr. Leen Kawas on Entrepreneurship

After working on successful biotechnology efforts, Kawas sounded off on what has contributed to her position as a successful executive.

In response to IdeaMensch asking her what single habit made her more work more productively as an entrepreneur, her response was, “Listening. I have a great capacity to listen and capture information which helps me formulate diverse and unique strategies.”

She explained that new entrepreneurs should keep in mind that others will challenge their ideas. This is not something entrepreneurs should avoid. Instead, they should welcome individuals who will challenge them, since that’s the ideal way to turn their original thoughts into ideas that are robust and improved beyond what they initially imagined they could be.

As for growing a business, Kawas recommends that entrepreneurs focus on acquiring the best available talent. She says she checks for the growth potential of each candidate. “It’s not a matter of just hiring them for what their skills can allow them to do today,” she said. “It’s about making sure you have employees who will demonstrate even greater capabilities going forward.”

To identify women of promise, Kawas will ask which parts of their position they like the most and would want to continue growing in. It’s a method to get women to commit to the company’s mission, and to network with others within that company to achieve their objectives.

“I read a Harvard Business Review article that indicates that women are able to garner many advisors, but a very few are able to get people to endorse them.” Kawas decided to do something about that, since she was in a position of power and could now make a difference in the lives of other female entrepreneurs.

A Future with More Women Entrepreneurs

Since half of society is made up of of women, it’s in everyone’s best interest if we promote female entrepreneurs on the growth and development of emerging ideas, which may lead to innovative products with meaningful benefits for all people.

And for these women to see their ideas take off and turn into blockbuster companies, it takes more than just providing counsel. Kawas notes, “I learned there is a difference between just providing advice to women and endorsing them and going out of your way to promote them, giving them an opportunity to grow — ultimately into a leadership position.”

Kawas added, “So, I think the ability for women to garner endorsements is critical in accelerating their career growth.”

It’s remarks like these that make it so exciting to witness the work of an entrepreneur such as Leen Kawas, who is leveraging her ongoing success in the biotechnology sector to promote and encourage other bright and gifted women in their own business startups.

As Kawas puts it, “you make your voice heard and you know you’ll leave your mark. Know your talents and know your skills and use every asset you have.”

Originally published at https://www.thebusinesswomanmedia.com on January 13, 2022.



Leen Kawas

Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology and entrepreneur