Dr. Lisa Drakeman

The Philanthropic Heart

by Leslie Harris    Photography by Christian Lee

Lisa Drakeman, Ph.D.

The Philanthropic Heart

Lisa Drakeman

There are givers and there are takers in this world, and Dr. Lisa Drakeman is one of the givers. She has a beautiful, waterfront, Lowcountry home, and plenty of high-powered connections, but she is truly motivated by helping others and the never-ending need for philanthropy.

A Ph.D. from Princeton University, Lisa falls easily into the “Smart Cookie” category. Her background as a historian, her love of history, and the impact of events over time show through in many areas of her life. After her studies of history and religion in the Ivy League, her life took an interesting turn that catapulted her to international prominence in the biotech field.

She was working at Medarex, an American biopharmaceutical company based in Princeton, NJ, when the opportunity presented itself for Lisa and her husband, Don, to start and develop a new biotech company. GenMab was founded in 1999, with the goal of developing human antibody therapies and treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. In fact, under Lisa’s leadership as CEO, the company raised over a billion dollars, set several industry records, and developed two new FDA approved treatments for cancer. Impressive accomplishments, but the primary drive for Lisa was always to help people through groundbreaking medical research.

In 2010 Lisa and Don moved to Hilton Head full-time with an eye towards retirement. But you only have to look around our island communities to realize that this is often a place where folks come not to retire-retire, but instead to have the time and the freedom to pursue their passions, learn and do new things, and keep on growing. And yes, for some people that could be perfecting their golf game or tennis backhand, but here’s what retirement looks like in Lisa’s world: She is the Board of Directors’ Chair for Volunteers in Medicine (VIM), the President of the Wine Society at the South Carolina Yacht Club, Vice President of the Princeton Club of Hilton Head, and a member of the Philanthropy Roundtable. She is just not a sit-on-the-sidelines kind of person, and that drive to continue to help people and positively impact the world has not lessened!

Of particular interest to her is VIM, which she characterizes as a “pioneering clinic for the medically underserved.” She saw that it successfully filled the gap between Medicaid and those with insurance by offering excellent medical treatment, but then she got the idea to go further. What about a wellness program: one designed to help those patients who were presenting with diseases like hypertension and diabetes, folks who may not be getting the right information and support to help them stay well and successfully manage their health conditions. This was a natural application of her strengths and passions, and the kind of thing she takes on without hesitation.

If you’re starting to wonder whether Lisa is all work and no play, let us remind you that she is indeed President of the Wine Society at the South Carolina Yacht Club, a commitment she has a lot of fun with. She knows a thing or two about wine, having educated herself thoroughly while living in Europe and traveling extensively for GenMab, but doesn’t take herself too seriously there. She approaches the arranging of the monthly wine dinners with a sense of humor and occasionally a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Last month’s event, entitled “A Supreme Wine Experience,” was dedicated to Justice Scalia, and succeeded in honoring him not just for his service on the Supreme Court, but also his devotion and expertise at many wine competitions.

The natural beauty and innate charm of Hilton Head Island continues to draw people from all walks of life, and at different points in their lives as well. And it’s clear we all benefit in many ways from the arrival of those whose spirits are generous and whose thoughts immediately go towards contribution. And what can we say about Dr. Lisa Drakeman? Despite all of her accomplishments, kindness to others is her most admirable trait.


Up Close:

Family: Husband Don; two grown daughters, Cindy who lives in D.C. and Amy who lives in NYC; two dogs, Neil and Emily, both rescues; and one cat, Callie.
Favorite wine? It definitely depends on the situation and what you are eating, but I will say that Champagne seems to be just right for almost all occasions!
At the moment I’m most proud of… The VIM Walkers, a pilot program we started for women over 35 who are at risk of heart disease. This is a fun group of ladies who have embraced the healthy comradery, diligently use their fitness trackers, and have positively impacted their health through walking together!
Must-see TV? The Golden State Warriors games! My husband and I met them at our hotel in NYC, in the gym no less! They were so kind, gracious, and considerate to everyone that we just fell in love with them and have followed them ever since.