Courtesy of Diane Pennica

Being a woman helped Diane Pennica to make the greatest breakthrough of her career, but not in a way one might expect.

In 1980, just a month after being hired at Genentech, Pennica found herself at a meeting on fibrinolysis in Sweden, where 30 scientists, all men, were listening to Desire Collen describe how he'd used protein purified from melanoma cells to dissolve a blood clot in a patient's leg.

The protein was tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), and Genentech had sent Pennica to the meeting for the express purpose of finding a substance that could be used to dissolve clots in patients who had had heart attacks. "This was exactly what Genentech had sent me to hear," she recalls.

But she wasn't supposed to be in that room. By accident, she'd slipped into a private preconference session. "They didn't ask me to leave right away because...

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