Martine Rothblatt hasn’t just dreamed bigger than most. She’s accomplished more, too. Rothblatt is the CEO of a billion-dollar pharmaceutical company, who also remains a staunch proponent of generic drugs; she founded Sirius XM satellite radio; she’s helped develop pioneering work on organ transplants; she’s a powerful advocate for transgender rights; she’s a lawyer, medical ethicist, futurist, pilot, triathlete, parent and world-changing technologist.
For Rothblatt’s impacts that have remade how people around the world live, the three-time UCLA alumna was presented Jan. 11 with the UCLA Medal, the highest campus honor.
“Dr. Rothblatt has taken her UCLA education — a B.A., a J.D. and an M.B.A. — and used it to delve into the far reaches of space, to the minute realms of the human genome, and to the mysterious complexities of human identity and consciousness,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “She is fond of the idea that we should identify the ‘corridors of indifference’ and then run like hell down them. I love that image: of her running down those corridors — bold, courageous and strong and serving as a role model for others who aspire to be equally bold, courageous and strong.”
Rothblatt, who had four papers published in peer-reviewed journals while a graduate student, attributes her multifaceted success in large part to what she learned at UCLA.
“It’s not happenstance that I could accomplish these things. There would have been no way to get to satellite geo-tracking … without my education here,” Rothblatt said while participating in UCLA Anderson’s Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series prior to the medal presentation. “This is what it looks like to ‘program’ someone with a UCLA curriculum.”
Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, began the conversation by noting Rothblatt’s three UCLA degrees. “So, you can tell we have a lot of ownership over Martine and we take credit for her many accomplishments,” Olian said, to laughter from the audience. “So I’m going to just tell you all to buckle up and get ready for this amazing journey with a truly remarkable person. I’ve said this before and I’m confident of this statement: Martine is the most interesting person you will ever meet.”
During a wide-ranging, one-hour discussion with Olian held in Korn Convocation Hall, Rothblatt spoke about the difficulties of getting approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, her company’s pioneering work developing a chamber that prepares a donated lung for transplantation, why generic drugs are vital to promoting health around the world, her latest research on “xenotransplantation” (transplanting animal tissue into humans) and her ideas about gender fluidity.
“It’s almost impossible to summarize in a few sentences how to get something approved by the FDA,” Rothblatt told the audience of about 300 students, faculty and guests. “It means you are approved to promote some alien molecule that has never been seen inside the human body and are allowed to promote the ingestion and infusion of that molecule.”
On the importance of generic medications: “They make medicines very affordable for tens of millions of people. In a relatively short amount of time the generic drug industry was able to knock the price of HIV drugs down to a buck a day. You’d have to be a cold-hearted person to be against making medicines available to people who could not otherwise afford them.”
The ability to never lose focus on people has been a touchstone for Rothblatt. She founded United Therapeutics after her daughter was diagnosed with an incurable lung disease. Rothblatt is also an outspoken role model for people who are transgender.
“As a ‘publicly significant’ transgendered person, I can give hope and inspiration to a lot of other transgendered people,” Rothblatt said. “If I can be out there speaking, and saying a good life as a transgendered person is possible, it’s my responsibility to do that.”
Rothblatt also said that she considers “male” and “female” to be artificial constructs. “We should let people choose their own gender identity. There is an infinite continuum of gender identity.”
Following the discussion at Anderson, Rothblatt was presented with the UCLA Medal at the Chancellor’s Residence.
“Your fearless explorations have challenged and expanded the way we understand fundamental concepts ranging from communication to gender to the nature of consciousness and mortality,” Block told the invited guests. “A visionary leader, you inspire others through your optimism, authenticity, clarity of purpose and pragmatic problem solving.”
After the chancellor placed the medal around Rothblatt’s neck, Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, where Rothblatt pursued her communication studies degree, offered his congratulations.
“Your tireless intellectual curiosity, pioneering leadership, and genuine commitment to making the world a better place is an inspiration to us all,” said Hunt, who welcomed Rothblatt, Olian and UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin on stage for a conversation.
“Martine Rothblatt is one of the most visionary and innovative people I have ever known, and I am proud that she is a UCLA School of Law alumna,” Mnookin said. “Her remarkable creativity in so many domains shows her many strengths as a leader, an entrepreneur, a futurist, a lawyer, a parent and a person. We couldn’t be more pleased to see Martine recognized with the university’s highest honor.”