EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Penelope Shihab was born and raised in Palestine during a period of heightened turbulence and political unrest. As conflict in the war-torn region escalated, Penelope had narrowly escaped death three times by the age of 14.
“Growing up in place of war and conflict, it was really hard for most people to stay there, live there and even harder to dream. But for me, it was a kick to try to find a better place to live and make my dreams come true,” Penelope said. “It wasn’t negative for me, it was a positive, motivating factor.”
Penelope had the full, unwavering support of her parents and family, who encouraged her to pursue her natural intellectual gifts and aptitude in the areas of math and science. In 1992, she moved to Jordan for her undergraduate studies, receiving her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Laboratory Medicine from the University of Applied Sciences. Penelope went on to pursue her graduate studies in Hematology, Biotechnology and Immunology at the Jordan University of Science and Technology.
After graduating in 1999, Penelope accepted the position of Sales and Marketing Manager at Dako Technologies, a world leader in the manufacturing of molecular, immunological, and biochemical products for diagnostics and therapy. In this position, she was responsible for sales and technical support for cancer diagnostic products and managed a sales team for a wide range of products.
Penelope’s work at Dako Technologies further fueled her determination to combine her scientific expertise with her astute understanding of business and management. “It was my passion to pursue a career in science and receive education overseas,” Penelope said. It was this passion that led Penelope to pursue her MBA at the London Institute in 2004.
While completing coursework for her master’s degree, Penelope served as Executive Manager for the Al Belbaisi Group, an industrial and trading company specialized in manufacturing off-light and electrical heating systems, where she managed a JD 3M business with over 30 employees in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
In 2011, Penelope began pursuing her PH.D in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology under the supervision of Professor Chris Lowe, Director of the Biotechnoloy Institute. She later facilitated a partnership with the University of Cambridge and her biotech company MONOJO aimed toward the research of immunized camel whey antibodies.
Penelope always saw enormous potential in the Middle East, its people and its abundant natural resources. It was during conversations with members of the nomadic Bedouin tribes residing in her home region that planted the seeds of the scientific breakthroughs and entrepreneurial spirit that would later inspire Penelope to found the first innovative biotech company in Jordan and the Arab world, MONOJO.
While researching cancer treatment systems at DAKO Industries, Penelope had several illuminating encounters with members of the Bedouin, an indigenous people of the Middle Eastern deserts. After spending much time observing their unhygienic(by modern standards) living conditions, she began to wonder at the Bedouin’s good health, vitality and youthful appearances. Penelope noticed that milk sourced from camels was consumed everyday, serving as the backbone of the Bedouin diet.
Penelope said, “I was so curious as to why camel’s milk is so different from other things and why they were so attached to camel’s milk that they drank it every day. One of them told me that he had lots of health problems but when he started to drink camel’s milk regularly, he was cured.” In addition to being a source of nutrition, Penelope also saw the Bedouin using camel’s milk for healing and cosmetic purposes.
With her background in science, Penelope automatically started to think about the chemical makeup of camels, particularly the antibodies found in camel’s milk. “I was thinking, what would be the antibodies of the camel? Are they different than other antibodies in the world? I began to study everything about the camel: the psychology, the fluid, the makeup, the anatomy, the behavior.”
Inspired by the line of research, which was unlike any studies being conducted in the United Kingdom where camels are not readily available, Penelope was determined to prove the therapeutic properties of camel’s milk through science.
In 2005, Penelope founded MONOJO, a pioneer biotech company based in Amman, Jordan, specialized in producing and marketing therapeutics derived from antibody production. Samih Darwazah, the founder of the multinational pharmaceutical firm Hikma Pharmaceuticals Company, signed on as investor and partner.
During the last 12 years serving as Chief Executive Officer of MONOJO, Penelope managed several areas of innovative research and development, oversaw the filing of three patents in the United States and Jordan, attracted numerous international investors and established strategic agreements with local and international organizations, including her alma mater, the University of Cambridge.
Recognized as a trailblazing businesswoman and scientist, Penelope won EY’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, Jordan award and has attended several national and international conferences as an influential speaker and entrepreneur.
Led by Penelope, the MONOJO research team discovered that antibodies in camel’s milk are stronger than other antibodies and are very effective at treating acne conditions. After eight years of research and clinical trials, MonoJO launched its first product, Skinue™, a cosmetic line with camel milk as its main active ingredient.
The Skinue™ cosmetic line is made up of four active products for acne-prone, dry or oily skin, which demonstrate a marked reduction in the visible signs of acne when used regularly. Its landmark camel antibody technology is patent-protected. Skinue™ is already on sale in over ten countries spanning the Middle East, Australia and Europe.
Penelope established Columbia Biotech USA as a MonoJO outpost to market and distribute Skinue™ in the United States. She currenly leads both companies and ensures collaboration between the two research teams. The Skinue™ line will be available for sale in the United States starting in the fall of 2017.
In November 2016, Penelope founded Royale Therapeutics, which is in the process of acquiring MONOJO and plans to go public. In January 2016, she launched MyRoyale™, a new digital marketing platform, which develops and sells naturally sourced cosmeceutical and nutraceutical products for the treatment and relief of unmet medical needs.
Penelope has now returned to Cambridge to further pursue her scientific research with an eye toward future innovations. Royale Therapeutics is already developing its next range of products targeting other dermatological diseases and recently patented a range of gastro-intestinal products, which relieve the often-debilitating symptoms associated with ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
All of these product extensions and new products will use Royale’s proprietary camel antibody technology. Further product development is also in place using other naturally sourced technology, which will tackle various bacterial, fungi and virus-related disease conditions for which Royale has identified an unmet clinical and broad customer need.
Penelope’s outstanding success in business is largely due to the incredible love and support provided by her close family circle. She resides in Amman, Jordan and follows the Middle Eastern tradition of living with her family and extended family in the same building. Her parents, parents-in-law, husband and four children take great pride in her achievements.
“My parents, my husband and my children support me so much.” Penelope said. “Here without family, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.” When Penelope is away from home for business, her mother and mother-in-law care for her children.
Her husband, who works in the clothing industry, is also very proud of her accomplishments and provides Penelope with enormous support that she says is crucial for her success.
Penelope said, “I need my husband’s support to come home late from work, to travel at any time, to go to conferences, to get more education. Without my partner understanding all of this, I couldn’t progress. This is a real need here. I am so lucky to have all of this.”
THE APPLIED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH FUND
In 2011, Penelope and her business partner Samih Darwazah created the Applied Scientific Research Fund, a non-profit organization that supports innovators and entrepreneurs in the Arab Region focusing on the healthcare sector.
ASRF helps potential innovators through each stage of the development process, including patent application, prototype construction and commercialization. ASRF supports potential innovators through capacity building, funding their projects, and providing them with the needed network.
ASRF was created with the goal of inspiring more innovation in the Arab world. Penelope’s background in both scientific innovation and entrepreneurship fueled her aspirations to mentor other innovators.
“I wanted to give back to my country and help more people develop their ideas,” Penelope said. “There are many people who are innovators but don’t know how to go from innovation to entrepreneurship. My idea was for this NGO to help evaluate whether their innovations are patentable, help people file their patents and help them gain a better understanding of markets and the business side of innovation.”
ASRF actively seeks annual applications from new innovators in the Middle East. Penelope sees further expansion of the program to include applications from international candidates as ASRF’s next phase. For more information and to donate to ASRF, please visit asrf.jo.
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