Monthly Spotlight: Starr McNamara, Fogarty Institute CFO

by | Mar 2, 2017 | Fogarty Innovation

Starr parlayed her background in accounting and finance to a starting position in the manufacturing industry, but was soon lured to the biotech space: A friend invited her to join a Sunnyvale-based startup, Scios, a biotechnology company developing a drug for congestive heart failure which was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $2.4 billion.

Starr joined the startup just as they were starting to file their first new drug application (NDA) with the FDA, an exciting time to be part of the small startup as it began to ramp up its clinical operations and medical affairs team.

Upon NDA approval, Starr was invited to join the clinical operations team, and within a few short years was leading the heart failure registry – one of the largest at the time with more than 160,000 patients.

As with most small startup environments, she had the opportunity to work on multiple aspects of the business in addition to finance, including marketing, site and clinical research organization (CRO) management, and electronic data capture (EDC) systems, even earning multiple certifications in clinical trial management to get up to speed on clinical regulations.

While overseeing the transition following the acquisition, Starr realized her heart and passion lay in the startup world, as it allowed her to continue to use her business and finance background while applying it to clinical programs in innovative ways.

She segued to senior positions in clinical research at two other startup biotechnology companies targeting different therapeutic areas, Affymax and XenoPort, before she began consulting in clinical program management.

In 2011, she was recruited to the Fogarty Institute as the director of business and finance of its newly formed clinical research program, which perfectly mirrored her background in finance and clinical research.

Though moving from industry to a nonprofit was a different career path, she viewed it as an exciting step to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Fogarty, whom she highly respected. “In many ways it was like creating a startup, a vehicle to foster clinical research for the Institute’s innovator companies, El Camino Hospital and ultimately the community,” she says.

She soon was also asked to oversee the Institute’s finance department and handled both until the organization spun off its clinical research to El Camino Hospital. “I felt I had the opportunity to make a real impact on the community for the first time,” she says. “I loved the idea of building on Dr. Fogarty’s legacy and being part of shaping an educational-based program that brings together the innovation ecosystem to develop devices that create more value in healthcare.”

Starr has a strong respect for El Camino Hospital for having the foresight to embrace and invest in research and innovation by hosting the Fogarty Institute on its campus, especially considering the current constraints placed on hospitals. “Having that direct interaction between physicians and entrepreneurs in this partnership has had a tangible impact on the community we serve,” she says.

Starr has thoroughly enjoyed being part of building the Institute to its current success and sees great potential for the future. “We have assembled a high-caliber team and it’s inspiring to have them as co-workers,” Starr said. “I am looking forward to continuing to be part of this exciting process as we raise the bar on the value we deliver to the community and our startups. Finally, I am very excited to be part of the mentoring team for clinical research and clinical operations, in addition to my role in finance.”

One constant throughout Starr’s career climb has been her close relationship with her daughter – the two traveled together as she built her career, and still find time to go camping and enjoy the outdoors.

A long-time student of Kenpo karate, Starr participated in international fighting competitions in her teens and twenties. At that time, not many females were participating so she was often paired with males and she still enjoys pulling out her sparring equipment today.

“Martial arts was a formative experience that taught me to channel my energy in a focused way, and helped me learn to be thoughtful, observant and adaptive, which has greatly helped me throughout my career.”

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