Meet Sheila Mikhail, Co-Founder of AskBio

Q&A with Female Founders

Joanna Ngai
Q&A with Female Founders
3 min readMay 28, 2019

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Sheila Mikhail is the CEO and Co-Founder of AskBio, a gene therapy company focused on developing life saving therapeutics for diseases for which there are currently no viable treatments.

Sheila Mikhail

How did your career path lead you to where you are today?

I have always be interested in science and in helping people. I have worked in the Adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy space for over 18 years, and have been involved with several companies that have been sold to Big Pharma, such as Chatham Therapeutics and Bamboo Therapeutics.

I became interested in gene therapy when I met Dr. Jude Samulski several years ago. Dr. Samulski was the first to clone AAV for therapeutic purposes. My business and legal background was complementary to his science expertise and since then, we have built several companies and advanced several therapeutics into clinical trials.

How did you scale AskBio?

To scale well, the principles of the business need to be established. Identification of the business’ roots, and its purpose are key to develop the roadmap for growth. AskBio was established as a collaboration between parents with children who suffered from devastating diseases, and researchers who pledged to help them.

Driven from the parents involved in the company, we initially focused on gene therapy treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Giant Axonal Neuropathy, and advanced therapeutics into the clinic for these disease. We have since expanded our focus to a wide variety of diseases.

We measure the success of our efforts based on the number of lives beneficially impacted.

What are some challenges you faced along the way?

I did not chose to start a company to make money. In fact, as gene therapy was out of favor for a long time, I had to wait a decade before the company started to get traction.

It is more difficult for women to raise funds, and this difficulty is the biggest challenge that women face when taking risk to start a business.

Something I’ve learned is that not everyone is going to like you, and it may be for reasons outside of your control. Accept it and move on.

What is some advice you want to pass onto others?

Analyze data efficiently, make decisions, and move forward. Delay in making decisions is the biggest expenditure of time.

The direction of a course of action can usually be modified as more data is discovered.

What excites you about the future?

Gene therapy is demonstrating in the clinic its potential to cure disease. We have many more diseases to tackle. I look forward to helping as many people as I can.

Today we operate in Spain, the UK, as in North Carolina. I did not expect to have an international reach.

I always believed in the premise that it is transformative medicine that could have many people for whom traditional medicinal approaches have failed.

Thanks for reading! To read more stories like this, check out my series with many more female founders.

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