Jennifer Tousignant’s Connection Between Horses and Biotechnology

Jennifer Tousignant, head of intellectual property at TESARO Inc., sees a connection between her legal work and her passions outside of the office

Photo by Connor Triehy

As a vice president and chief intellectual property  counsel at TESARO Inc. and an accomplished dressage rider and sport horse breeder, she knows more than a few things about conquering individual challenges and stacking those wins together to accomplish something major.

She began working at TESARO in 2016, but her career in intellectual property (IP) began long before that. In fact, Tousignant’s extensive background in the biotechnology space, including in IP, coupled with her passion for dressage and sport horse breeding lends her a unique perspective on the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry.

Jennifer Tousignant, TESARO Inc. Photo by Connor Triehy

Tousignant’s decision to begin a career in the sciences was inspired by an early experience with one of her mother’s preschool students who was living with cystic fibrosis. Her experience in lung biology research as part of her undergraduate studies in chemistry led to her first position in the biotechnology industry at Genzyme Corporation (acquired by Sanofi in 2011).  Following successful research at the bench and as an inventor on several patent families, Genzyme’s legal department recruited Tousignant to focus on IP law.

“Because I worked both at the bench and then in-house at Genzyme while I went to law school, I learned the business from the inside, which gives me a wonderful, bottoms-up perspective. I understand the business of science is the process of bringing new drugs and treatments to the market all the way from the research lab to commercial,” she says.

Tousignant’s career and understanding of IP is also informed by her passion for horses and her extensive experience with competitive riding in dressage and sport horse breeding—all of which involve plenty of day-to-day decisions that combine for positive and noteworthy results.

Horses seemed to simply be part of Tousignant’s DNA. Her first riding experience was at eight years old, and she was hooked. That said, she says she’s been a horse person. “In fact, I taught myself to read so I could learn about horses, since I didn’t come from a horse family.”

After graduating from the University of Virginia and launching her research career at Genzyme, Tousignant started riding at Apple Valley Farm. Apple Valley specialized in dressage—an equestrian sport that requires a highly skilled horse and rider to perform a series of carefully choreographed movements. It was there that she met her mentors and began her dressage practice seriously, which led her to eventually open her own breeding farm, Rhodes Farm.

“Dressage is amazing. It’s an incredible feeling to be that connected to your horse, a twelve- hundred-pound animal, and to be able to to direct the horse through a ride. It’s a sport that requires a uniquely complex combination of theory and athleticism,’’ she says.

In dressage and in breeding, there’s an endgame, Tousignant says. “All of your work from the beginning is to produce a successful riding horse,” she says. “While you need to focus on the short game of understanding what the foal is when it is born, you also need to consider how they develop in sport. This means focusing on how your horse is doing today and what will be needed in two, three, or even ten years from now.”

Photo by Connor Triehy

Her work at TESARO isn’t all that different from breeding dressage horses, she says. Tousignant joined TESARO  to build the IP department from the ground up, and the company recently was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline.

Intellectual property in this field is particularly complicated due to the competitive nature of the space and the use of therapeutic combinations. “IP practice in this area requires understanding not only your own products, but also the competitive landscape—both in a very granular way and on a high strategic level.” she says. Her department’s long-term strategy is to embed IP into the business so that it is integrated it throughout the entire research and development process, including education of the entire business in a way that makes the entire company stewards of its IP.

Oncology is a crowded and competitive intellectual property area, so when companies like TESARO have a new treatment being developed it’s important to keep the business side of things in mind. “I’d like to see a greater understanding of the commercial aspect of intellectual property,” she says. “It’s easy to get lost in the academic side of things—but it is most important to have commercially meaningful IP rights, both offensive and defensive ones.”

The business aspect of science is complex and sometimes not understood, which is why Tousignant finds it so compelling. “The science starts with basic research on compounds, and ends with changing the lives of patients in need.”

The Science of Dressage Riding

  • The word “dressage” is derived from a French term that translates to “training.”
  • Dressage riders have the goal of strengthening their horses while developing the horse’s talent through different levels of competition in the sport.
  • Champion dressage horses are bred to have three pure and expressive gaits, athleticism, and good characters.
  • Rigorous breeding standards and classical training combine to make a successful horse and rider team.
  • Dressage riders train for years—both in riding as well as in course-based and practical judging training—to achieve the riding scores and pass the tests they need to become qualified as judges.

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP:

“We are proud of our partnership with Jennifer Tousignant and TESARO. We admire Jennifer’s leadership and dedication to improving the lives of patents within the cancer community. We congratulate Jennifer on this very well-deserved recognition.”

–Irena Royzman, Partner

We congratulate our friend, Jennifer Tousignant of Tesaro Inc. on her continuing leadership and accomplishments. It is our pleasure to work with Jennifer and Tesaro as a strategic partner to drive their business forward. To learn more about the firm, visit