The 2021 Women of the Year Awards: Corporate Leader – Runner-up

Karimah Es Sabar is CEO and partner at investment firm Quark Venture, which focuses on health-care technologies.

Corporate Leader: Runner-up
Karimah Es Sabar
CEO and partner, Quark Venture

When Karimah Es Sabar turned seven, her father gave her a chemistry set as a birthday present. “Ever since then, I’ve been in love with science,” says the B.C. biotech pioneer.

Es Sabar left her native Kenya for England, where she earned a master’s in neurochemistry at the University of London. She switched to the male-dominated pharmaceuticals industry by joining Boots Co. as a product manager with its industrial division. Es Sabar went on to run Boots’ ethical pharmaceuticals arm for Africa and the Middle East, then co-founded her first startup, a pharma marketing and distribution company, at age 26.

Immigrating to Toronto, she became director of the international division at what is now Sanofi Pasteur before moving to Vancouver in 2002. She soon found herself recruited to lead advocacy group BC Biotech, transforming it into business development organization LifeSciences BC. “We were able to attract many Big Pharma [players] to come to B.C., to invest not only in the companies but in our world-leading research centres,” she says of her tenure from 2005-10, which saw $1.5 billion in investment.

Es Sabar also helped build the Centre for Drug Research and Development, now called adMare BioInnovations. As president and CEO, she established partnerships with all of the pharma titans and 57 universities across the globe.

She then became one of Canada’s first female life-sciences fund managers by co-founding Quark Venture in 2016. With Chinese investment bank GF Securities Co., the Vancouver-based venture capital firm runs a US$500-million fund focused on disruptive and innovative health-care technologies worldwide. “We’re driven by the science, the team and the impact opportunity,” Es Sabar says of Quark, which recently made its 26th investment.