Top CEO Marianne De Backer is Ghent University Alumnus of the Year 2024

(29-04-2024) She is a trail-blazer in the world of biotechnology. Not only as CEO of Vir Biotechnology but also as champion of women in leadership positions she excels. That is why Marianne De Backer is the Ghent University Alumnus of the Year 2024.

Out of hundreds of nominations by alumni, staff and students of Ghent University, the jury selected Marianne De Backer as the winner. She laid out an impressive professional path both in Belgium and international. In addition, she commits to putting female talent in the spotlight. That is why recognition is warranted, according to the jury.

I’ve won some nice awards during my career but never before in Belgium. And from Ghent University no less, where I took my first steps in the field of biotech!

Hundreds of business deals

Marianne De Backer studied and received her PhD at Ghent University (biotechnology) and built an impressive international career in the pharmaceutical sector - 28 years at Janssen Pharmaceutica/Johnson & Johnson, 3 years at Bayer and now as CEO of Vir Biotechnology (Silicon Valley, US), a biotech company developing immunity-boosting drugs.

She also closed more than 200 deals, amounting to billions of dollars, making many drugs accessible to the general public. Marianne believes in the interaction between universities and companie stimulates progress.

Encouraging female talent

Marianne takes it on herself to encourage female talent: “I am in a position where I can make a difference. I encourage female talent to develop and seize opportunities. I myself had great mentors - both men and women - who on the one hand set the bar high, but at the same time gave me every opportunity. (...) Today there is already improved gender equality at all levels of the organization. The more diverse the thinking in your team, the stronger you are as a company. That requires an unbiased view of talent.”

Connection with Ghent University

Even though Marianne lives and works in the United States, she keeps in touch with former fellow students: “They are now spread all over the world. It is my network for life. In addition to these informal contacts, I am a founding member of the Alumni Chapter West Coast of Ghent University. Through this chapter, you stay connected to the university, and vice versa.”

Would you like to know more about Marianne's professional career, her projects to support talent, her vision on business and the biotech sector? Read the full interview on