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From public defender to spearheading the adoption of innovative drugs, Wendy Short Bartie, senior VP and general manager for the hematology and cell therapy division at Bristol Myers Squibb, has remained a steadfast patient advocate—working to fulfill unmet medical needs and bring treatments to as many people as possible.
In the realm of innovation and progress within the healthcare sector, Wendy Short Bartie, the newly appointed senior vice president and general manager for the hematology and cell therapy division at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), is a shining industry example of an individual who has an unwavering dedication to people—positively impacting as many as she can and directly taking the fight to cancer. Short Bartie accepted her new position on June 1. She had previously held the role of senior VP, acting as chief of staff to BMS board chairman and CEO Giovanni Caforio, MD, and operating in the strategic role of driving enterprise initiatives.
Short Bartie’s path to her current position began in the winter of 1993 while she was an undergrad in Atlanta, on the day Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall died.
“I was at a grocery store in the health and beauty aids aisle, and I saw on a store TV that he passed, and I just cried. He was such a trailblazer for civil rights who fought tirelessly for equality and justice for all, and such an important man in the history of this country,” Short Bartie tells Pharmaceutical Executive®. “Right then and there, I decided to apply to law school. While not aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice, I was very clear in my intention to focus on public service.”
Upon graduating from law school, Short Bartie became a public defender—a noble cause, and a tough route. Motivated by an intrinsic call to help those in need, she dedicated her early career to public service in Washington, DC and later in the Bronx. She observed firsthand how countless individuals who lacked the necessary resources became entangled in the complexities of the legal system, with cases ranging from minor offenses to serious crimes. Regardless of the severity of the charges, a conviction always posed a significant threat to defendants’ freedom, job prospects, education, financial stability, and interpersonal relationships—resources many of her clients already lacked. To put it plainly, a great deal was on the line for many people every day, and Short Bartie yearned to advocate for them.
“The need for resources was staggering, as was the caseload. And I wanted to be a mother. At that point in my career, my husband and I didn’t have any kids, and he was also focused on career growth,” says Short Bartie. “I really struggled with whether I would be able to achieve my personal goal of motherhood against a career as demanding as being a public defender. That feeling of swimming upstream caused me to think about a pivot to a career where I could be a mother but continue to impact the lives of people in a way that was meaningful.”
As a result, she chose to “carry the bag,” landing a position in pharma sales. Short Bartie discovered it wasn’t about the demands of the job, but more about the personality and drive of the person that determines how hard one works in the industry. It didn’t take long to realize that she was just as committed to her new role and worked even harder than she had in her first career.
This first experience in pharma, according to Short Bartie, while different in context, resonated with the same fundamental objective that inspired her to be a public defender: unmet needs and filling gaps where critical needs weren’t being met. She adds that operating within the pharmaceutical industry, the mission of ensuring as many patients as possible have access to necessary medications and treatments also allowed her to cast a much wider net.
As Short Bartie’s pharma journey continued, her legal background proved valuable. She was able to leverage her strategic thinking as a lawyer while focusing on integrity, compliance, and innovation—and kept a relentless focus on people. She began to soar.
Over the past 20 years, Short Bartie’s breadth of expertise has spanned multiple roles within the life sciences industry, showcasing a steady ascent through those various roles and responsibilities. They included commercial positions in sales, business analytics, and marketing across diverse therapeutic areas. She made significant contributions in roles with eminent pharma organizations such as Merck, Novartis, and Forest Laboratories (now Allergan).
Short Bartie has dedicated the majority of her professional life to combatting cancer, a mission that is deeply personal to her due to her family’s history with the disease. She lost her father and grandfather to prostate cancer, and her older brother is currently battling the disease. Her mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor.
“When I look at the devastation cancer has caused my family, but also the hope and the promise based on my mother’s experience—she stood up to cancer twice—I realize the work that I do is meaningful,” says Short Bartie. “Because we’re able to provide solutions for people who love their families, just like I love mine. I know the work we do in the pharmaceutical industry really does have a profound impact on people’s ability to live. And I’m very proud of and humbled by that.”
While previously promoting general medicines, Short Bartie’s career as a cancer adversary and patient advocate started over 11 years ago at Novartis with Tasigna, a medication used to treat the blood cancer chronic myeloid leukemia, and Zycadia, a drug used for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. This period highlighted Short Bartie’s early involvement in promoting and launching cancer treatments and marked the beginning of her journey in oncology.
Before making the jump to BMS to become the senior VP and head of US oncology, Short Bartie held a pivotal position at Merck, where she served as VP and head of commercial operations for US oncology. She led various facets of the organization, from sales to market access and pricing to policy. Her focus on cancer treatment at Merck deepened and started to incorporate cutting-edge innovation during her tenure. As the global product director for immunotherapy oncology for women’s cancers, she worked at the forefront of new cancer modalities, contributing to the development and promotion of immunotherapy, a revolutionary approach at the time that uses the body’s immune system to fight and destroy cancer cells. She also served as executive director and global disease lead for women’s cancers and as an assistant VP, leading efforts against genitourinary cancers. It was a busy five years—she evolved from carrying the bag, to promoting individual treatments, to leading disease-centric initiatives, and now to spearheading the adoption of innovative drugs.
Short Bartie was recently promoted to senior VP and general manager for the hematology and cell therapy division. Unique among others, BMS is the only company with two approved CAR-T cell therapies, Breyanzi and Abecma, with two distinct targets. The company boasts a diverse hematology portfolio spanning multiple modalities, combinations, and platforms, particularly cell therapy.
Efforts to democratize insight and innovation surrounding cancer treatment and care is where Short Bartie’s dedication to people truly resonates.
“Getting medicines to as many people as possible is not just about pricing and access, it’s about an exchange of knowledge and information,” she tells Pharm Exec®. “I’m still concerned by how many people go to doctors’ offices and receive a diagnosis of cancer and rely completely on the representations of the doctor—they take the treatment the doctor offers without question and without having awareness of access to other information and resources that can help them be more informed and make better decisions.”
Short Bartie firmly believes that all patients—regardless of race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, education, disability status, etc.—should possess the knowledge and ability to search for and understand which clinical trials could be relevant to their health conditions; to have access to early-detection screenings to diagnose conditions before they escalate to critical and often untreatable stages; and to have better access to their own personal data to empower themselves and help healthcare professionals (HCPs) make better, more personalized, and informed choices.
“How can we use AI and technology to take HCP variability out of the equation in order to diagnose and recommend proper treatments, whether a patient is being treated by an international thought leader at one of the best institutions in the world or a community-based physician in a rural community in the US?” asks Short Bartie. “The same applies to innovation. Innovation without access is, quite frankly, just interesting as a concept, not a transformative force. We’ve got to continue to do work to make sure that as many patients as possible can get access to life-saving medications.”
As mentioned, before her latest promotion, Short Bartie worked as Caforio’s chief of staff (Caforio is retiring as CEO on Nov. 1). She describes it as “hands down, my best experience to date.”
“I think few people get the opportunity to intimately understand how a company is run, and I feel fortunate to have been able to see what enterprise leadership and focus truly means,” says Short Bartie. “It was a humbling experience to realize the responsibility that comes with running a company, especially one with a mission that is so people-focused. It was almost like getting an MBA in real time, watching how Giovanni leads the organization, makes trade-off decisions, and really advances the mission of the organization. He demonstrated the power of intellect and compassion combined.”
She’s proud of the work she was able to focus on, not only in terms of operational effectiveness but also the accomplishments achieved with large societal issues—particularly those advancing health equity.
BMS’s increased focus on health equity has become a major cornerstone of its commitment to patient communities. This was reflected in initiatives such as the BMS Foundation’s work to increase the number of clinicians and clinical trial investigators from disadvantaged communities as well as the pledge to augment racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials. Short Bartie points out that this ultimately leads to more culturally sensitive care and a better understanding of the specific health needs of these communities. By including more diverse populations in clinical trials, BMS is working to ensure that the results of these studies are relevant to a wider range of people, providing potentially better outcomes to entire patient populations.
Another one of BMS’s commitments in this area, and one the company was very vocal about, was a pledge to invest $1 billion in supplier diversity by 2025, a goal proudly achieved in 2022.
“It’s gratifying to see a corporation infuse money into communities to help businesses be successful. But when you think about it through the lens of diverse suppliers, many of these businesses are small,” says Short Bartie. “To be able to have a contract with a company like BMS and serve the community at a larger scale, [it] can make the difference between a successful business and one that struggles. So, that investment in the community is something I am incredibly proud of.”
Short Bartie is pleased with the progress the industry has made and is optimistic about the future. However, she is also well aware that there is a lot more work to be done.
“I think the speed at which innovation occurs in the industry is staggering. Over the past 20 years, we’ve gone from celebrating a treatment that was able to provide a few more months of life to new therapies that are allowing patients to live for years,” she says. “Conditions that once had a death sentence attached have evolved into manageable chronic conditions. In some instances, we have seen conditions that were once fatal become curable.”
In the context of cancer, as innovation continues (particularly in areas that still have high unmet needs), Short Bartie would love to see the healthcare industry finally be able to use the word “cure” regularly.
Short Bartie has a lot of admirers, but anecdotes from the outgoing Caforio and her daughter, Madison, sum up her wide-ranging skill sets as a leader.
“Wendy’s visionary leadership is invaluable to our company. She is a passionate, patient-centered, people-focused business leader,” Caforio tells Pharm Exec®. “While I miss her day-to-day counsel, I am so proud to see her take on responsibility for our hematology and cell therapy portfolio. I know she will continue to do great things for patients and for Bristol Myers Squibb.”
A few years back, Short Bartie found herself on a professional excursion in Japan where she says she was treated as though she was not worthy. She woke up one morning during the trip to the following message from her daughter, then 11, who offered pretty astute advice that Short Bartie has shared with everyone from friends to mentees since: “Hi Mom, I just want you to know that you deserve to be in the room. You deserve to have a seat at the table. And you deserve to have your voice heard. Dad told me that, and I thought you could use that advice, too.”
Fran Pollaro is a senior editor for Pharmaceutical Executive®.