When you talk to Tia Lyles-Williams, she won’t hit you up front with all the “firsts” and “fews” she’s accomplished. Honestly, if you approached her like I did for an interview, then you know all that stuff already. But you do get the sense that she walks in confidence of what she’s accomplished and what she’s still working on. And believe me, she’s just getting started with her company, LucasPye Bio. Heck, LucasPye is just one of multiple businesses she owns. And she’s entering partnerships with other history making businesses.
Tia started working on the plans for LucasPye Bio while she was working for someone else. Really, over the course of working for multiple “someone elses.” Her resume reads like a who’s who of the pharmaceutical industry. So when Tia got her own biomanufacturing firm off the ground, her qualifications put her in a unique place. She’s not only the first Black woman to lead such a firm and the first queer woman to do so as well. You see, the average CEO in the biomanufacturing industry comes from a business background… not the STEM field. Learning this as I did from Tia, explains a lot about the pharmaceutical industry. Now, her qualifications and the platform she created put her in position to fix a lot of the things she sees as problems (along with a lot of other people).
One of the main themes behind Tia’s work is putting more money into the Black community. And she’s focused on creating the opportunity to do that through the pharmaceutical industry. She has plans to train people from the top down and even in all the ancillary things the industry needs. So what does that look like? It means training people in the processes used in making medicines and more. Not the stuff that requires you to have a college degree. On the contrary, it’s the stuff that just about anyone can do and still make a lot of money. It also means showing business owners in other industries where they can fit in. For instance, a lot of laboratories have the be cleaned a specific way and they contract that work out to janitorial company. Lab coats and other garments also have to be cleaned a certain way. And a lot of places need food or catering services. Tia wants to show more Black owned businesses in those sectors and more how they can compete for those pharmaceutical dollars.
If your doctor has ever prescribed you a medication, you likely found out the hard way that drugs are expensive. As far as Tia is concerned, it’s excessive. Medicine is so expensive these days, it’s priced right out of the reach of millions of Americans, most of them Black and Brown. And the drugs are as inequitable as they are costly. Tia says Black people are largely left out of testing and design… both in the lab and as subjects. That means a lot of medicines that come to market do not account for the differences of the genomic structure within the Black race. It’s a structure that has become more and more complicated as races began to mix, dating back to the time of slavery and forced sexual intercourse. Tia hopes to change those inequities in several ways.
Aside from formulating cost effective processes for manufacturing drugs, her goal is to get more diverse people involved in the manufacturing and design process. That goes from the person on the creation line… all the way up to the C Suite. She’s also partnered with a company that’s cracking the Black human genome. The current one is based generally from a white male. IndyGeneUS (pronounced indigenous) is working on a genome based on Black people. The goal is to create therapeutics that account for the variety in Black DNA. Now here’s another cutting edge aspect of this partnership. As they create a bank of samples. Researchers will have to pay to get access to it. Then the person or people who gave the samples also get part of that money. Here’s the thought process, in case it’s not obvious to you. Hundreds, sometimes thousand of people agree to give tissue, blood, or any other sample. Then big pharma turns around and makes billion dollar products from it. Meanwhile, the people they studies don’t get much of anything (just check the story of Henrietta Lacks). Hell… they might not even be able to afford the medication that comes from their cells. But Tia and her partners at IndyGeneUS hope to compensate those people every time their data is used. It’s not likely to make anyone rich quick. However, it still gives them some compensation over time where they had none before.