Maria Pasquale wants to be billboard worthy.
It’s an unusual ambition for the executive vice president and general counsel of a global biopharmaceutical company, but Incyte is an unusual organization. It doesn’t just manufacture drugs; the firm develops solutions for serious and rare medical conditions, some of which have limited or no treatments.
But what does it mean to be billboard worthy? It means to be appreciated by the patients who rely on Incyte’s research, therapies, and lifesaving medicines in oncology and other areas.
In 2020, the FDA approved Incyte’s Pemazyre (pemigatinib), the first targeted treatment for adults with a particular form of cholangiocarcinoma, an uncommon bile duct cancer. Patients often receive a diagnosis when the cancer is already advanced and surgery is no longer viable. Pemazyre offers a new nonsurgical treatment option.
One patient group was so grateful when Pemazyre was approved that it thanked Incyte with a billboard on the Delaware Memorial Bridge Toll Road. Approximately 110,000 drivers going from New Jersey to Delaware saw the message each day.
The gesture meant a lot to Pasquale and her colleagues. “One of the best things we experience as employees at a global biopharmaceutical company is when we hear from patients whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the medicines we make,” she says.
Pasquale knows what a difference effective treatments make for patients and their families—her own mother passed away from a courageous battle with breast cancer at the age of forty four. Pasquale was in law school at the time, and the tragic event motivated her to find a new purpose and use her law degree to support mission-driven companies.
An in-house role at a biopharmaceutical company fit Pasquale well. She had already earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and worked at a prestigious lab in Long Island, New York, operated by Nobel Prize winner and renowned molecular biologist James Watson. She then worked at a boutique intellectual property law firm. In 2001, Pasquale joined Celgene, which at the time was a relatively small biopharmaceutical company with under four hundred US employees and no in-house lawyer or legal department.
Seeing its potential, she approached the company and explained the value she could bring and convinced them to hire her as their first in-house counsel. Pasquale got the unique opportunity to learn and contribute to management decisions affecting every facet of a growing biotech business and to establish a responsive and custom-made legal and compliance department.
By the time she left the company it had grown to over 10,000 employees worldwide. The company was sold in 2018 for over 74 billion dollars.
After seventeen years, Pasquale moved to Incyte to help another biotech firm grow and develop a deep pipeline of products for patients with serious diseases and unmet needs. The S&P 500 company places a heavy emphasis on research and development.
Incyte’s most notable product is Jakafi (ruxolitinib), a drug first marketed for a rare blood cancer called myelofibrosis. Since Pasquale’s arrival, she’s handled a variety of legal matters and has been pleased to see the approval of Jakafi for additional uses such as chronic and acute graft-versus-host disease, as well as the approval of other important cancer drugs like Pemazyre, the drug that the patient group acknowledged with its billboard. Pasquale is also excited about contributing to the company’s new dermatology franchise.
Experience in biochemistry helps Pasquale apply her legal training at Incyte. “We’re a research-based organization, and my background in science allows me to work more quickly and understand the nuances of what we do to help our patients,” she explains, adding that the company pours more than half of its revenue back into research. She also considers Incyte’s work on inclusion initiatives very important—the company works to make its therapies accessible to underserved patients populations and those with financial needs.
“Having worked with Maria for many years, she has always exhibited extraordinary skills in all matters,” says Nick Cerrito, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP. “This is particularly true in litigations where she brings her exceptional insights to bear to formulate winning strategies. It is truly a pleasure to work with her.”
Pasquale has been able to embed herself in the company because she is comfortable with the business side of her role as a corporate lawyer. That involves a willingness to ask questions, understand business objectives, and address new complex legislation accordingly. She advises aspiring in-house lawyers to do the same.
“Ask questions about your client’s goals, show how your work adds value, and don’t be afraid to be yourself,” she says. “It’s OK if you don’t know exactly where you want your career to go, but be open to different opportunities and to where you can have the most impact.” That strategy, combined with a talented and exceptional team, has helped make Pasquale successful.
In 2021, Incyte introduced a cream to treat eczema and has an application pending to make it the first FDA-approved drug for patients with vitiligo. Pasquale and her team are working behind the scenes to assist business leaders as they bring this product to consumers and launch a new dermatology division.
In addition, the team assisted Incyte with getting clinical studies up and running to find important new COVID-19 treatments. Incyte’s drug, licensed to Eli Lilly and known as Olumiant (baricitinib), recently won FDA approval for hospitalized COVID-19 adult patients requiring supplemental oxygen.
The high-volume and complex nature of the work can be demanding at times. If things feel stressful or overwhelming, Pasquale thinks about a poster in Incyte’s research building for a simple reminder of why her work matters. “Work hard, stay calm, and cure cancer,” it reads.
She’s also still motivated by the legacy of the loving mother who raised her. Pasquale created a scholarship in her memory at Stony Brook University. Each year, the award provides funding to a deserving minority student to conduct hands on medical research with the hope of inspiring their interest in finding therapies in unmet medical areas.
Sidley congratulates Maria Pasquale on this meaningful recognition! For over a decade, our firm has been privileged to work with Maria, who has always been an extraordinary leader. We look forward to continuing our relationship with both Maria and Incyte Corporation.
Cozen O’Connor congratulates Maria Pasquale! Ranked among the top 100 firms, we have more than 800 attorneys in 31 cities across two continents. We are a full-service firm with nationally recognized practices in litigation, business law, IP and government relations. Our diverse client list includes global Fortune 500 companies, middle-market firms poised for growth, and ambitious startups.