Mary Jane Spellane Marchisotto ’75 to Receive 2024 WCA Award for Distinguished Career and Impact in Food Allergy Advocacy

The Wells College Association of Alumnae and Alumni will present the 2024 WCA Award to Mary Jane Spellane Marchisotto, Class of 1975, for high achievement in her career and in service to Wells College.
February 5, 2024

After an exceptional 30-year career in the financial services industry, Mary Jane joined the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) a non-profit organization whose mission was ‘to find a cure for food allergies and keep kids safe in the interim.’ With little to no experience in food allergy, she quickly became an expert in the field and has had an immeasurable impact.

MJ Spellane Marchisotto '75 headshot

Mary Jane graduated magna cum laude from Wells in economics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Subsequently, she was an honors student and received her MBA in finance at Columbia University School of Business. Her illustrious financial career includes appointments as vice president at Citibank and executive director at Morgan Stanley. During her time in the financial industry, Wells interns in banking were fortunate recipients of her generosity and mentorship.

Leah Cermak Dimler ’96, who nominated Mary Jane for the WCA Award, says, “She served as the missing link I needed to complete my undergraduate education, enabling me to gain the confidence I so badly needed during the infancy of my career in finance. She gave me what the classroom could not. When I think about the motto of our alma mater, ‘habere et dispertire, to have and to share,’ no alumna embodies this more than Mary Jane.”

Mary Jane’s journey into the world of food allergies began when a friend, former manager, and mentor, Todd Slotkin, who was chair of the Food Allergy Initiative, called her in 2009 about joining the non-profit he and other families had started as Executive Director.

As Executive Director, Mary Jane not only led FAI but helped put it on the map by garnering attention for its research vision and expanding its collaboration with research pioneers. Working closely with Todd and the FAI Board, she organized a research retreat - the first of its kind in the field - that brought together experts from academia, the pharmaceutical industry, government, health care, and non-profit patient advocates to agree upon the future priorities of food allergy research. Utilizing her background in banking and finance, Mary Jane then worked closely with FAI leadership to raise money to start a pharmaceutical company, Allergy Research Corp., with the goal of developing a drug therapy that would slowly desensitize patients to peanuts. The company subsequently went public under the name of Aimmune Therapeutics. In 2020, Aimmune’s product became the first FDA-approved therapy for a food allergy.  Recognizing the best way to serve the food allergy community would be through consolidation, and working closely with the FAI Board, Mary Jane was instrumental in the creation of a new organization, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) the result of a  merger of FAI and  the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and FAI in 2012.

During her tenure at FARE, Mary Jane led the research grant program, working with the nation’s most respected food allergy researchers to help shape FARE’s renowned research portfolio. She played a key role in the establishment of the FARE Clinical Network, a coalition of top food allergy centers led and coordinated by FARE which now totals 53 sites across the United States including major research universities and hospitals. She spearheaded the creation of the FARE Patient Registry to collect data to speed the search for new treatments and improve patient care. Mary Jane chaired the International Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Alliance, and later the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Patients Organization Committee of about 30 patient organizations globally. During her tenure, FARE solidified its position as the world’s largest private funder of innovative food allergy studies in the areas of prevention, prevalence, quality of life, and treatment.

In the fall 2017, “WellsNotes,” Mary Jane wrote: “It is hard to believe that I left financial services almost eight years ago and have been working for a health care nonprofit focused on improving the lives of individuals with food allergies. For someone who never entered Zabriskie for a science class, I now find myself working closely with the world’s leading allergy and immunology experts to understand the cause of the disease and introduce FDA-approved therapies. It has been an incredibly rewarding career repositioning.”
James Baker, Jr., M.D., director of the Mary H Weiser Food Allergy Center at the University of Michigan, and ex-CEO of FARE, said, “Mary Jane is a force of nature. She is one of the most recognized people in the food allergy field. Through her management, public relations, and personal interactions, she makes people want to get on board.” Dr. Baker credited Mary Jane with raising millions of dollars for clinical and basic research initiatives and for advancing public policy.

Mary Jane co-authored a major proposal to the National Academies of Medicine that led to its seminal report, “Finding a Path to Safety in Food Allergy—An Assessment of the Global Burden, Causes, Prevention, Management, and Public Policy” in 2017 and the successful effort to change insurance coverage to expand access to oral food challenges to confirm the diagnosis of food allergy. She has co-authored 16 food allergy peer-reviewed journal articles and has served on peer-review panels for other food allergy publications and for evaluating funding proposals. Her publications focused on guideline creation and dissemination, food labeling, and patient-centered outcomes research.

In addition, Mary Jane spearheaded a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) grant awarded to FARE that assessed the needs of food allergy stakeholders. As part of the grant, she coordinated the creation of the Outcomes Research Advisory Board, bringing together a diverse group of patients, caregivers, researchers, and affiliated professionals to set patient priorities for food allergy patients.

She has worked with allergy and immunology psychologist Linda Herbert, Ph.D., Director of Psychosocial Clinical Program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, since 2016 on multiple projects regarding the psychosocial aspects of food allergy. Dr. Herbert said, “We published a paper together about the need for additional mental health providers with food allergy expertise and presented them at multiple international conferences.” Dr. Herbert added, “One of Mary Jane’s strengths is bringing people together. She has a knack for identifying key food allergy researchers and patient organizations with common interests, connecting them, and then facilitating collaboration that pushes the field forward.”

Mary Jane continued to mentor young colleagues at FARE. Lauren Sagnella remembered, “I started at FARE as a part-time receptionist, the first job out of college that was not an internship. Later, we planned the Research Retreats and the International Food Allergy Conferences. I took my cues from her, how to behave, and how to talk to people. She was a very good model for me.”

Greg Niel, Vice President of CRM & Business Operations at FARE, thinks of the impact Mary Jane made in his work and life: “We met at Morgan Stanley in 2001. When she arrived, she put me to work! We worked on projects together. Later, she hired me at FARE. I had not finished my degree, so she urged me to do it. A guy in his forties and I did it. I give her the credit. With others, she would say, ‘What does your resume look like? This project should be on it.’ She helped everyone on her team at FARE at some point. She made it a family. She could also make work fun. More than once, I walked into a meeting and found her tutoring another colleague on putting.”

Patricia (Pat) Profeta ’75 said, “Mary Jane is a lifelong learner. Her friends and colleagues are the beneficiaries of her intense intellectual curiosity. She shares recommendations about books, theatre, food, and cultural events.” Susie Miller ’75 agreed. “Academically and professionally, people turn to MJ for guidance. Mary Jane was a presence as a mentor in the financial services field, where women have been underrepresented.” In frequent Zoom chats during the pandemic, Mary Jane took Pat, Susie, Marie Chapman Carroll ‘75, and other Wells classmates on virtual museum tours.

“I went into an area that I knew nothing about,” Mary Jane recalled. “I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with renowned researchers around the world and to get to know so many families affected by this disease.”

Mary Jane served as Senior Vice President of Research and International at FARE until her retirement in 2019. Since then, she has continued to consult, advise, and volunteer on food allergy issues for industry, academia, and patient groups here and abroad. Currently, she is working on a multi-year global research study and helping to create a global network of food allergy centers of excellence. Mary Jane continues to advocate for research and education on food allergies as a principal at MJM Advisory, LLC. She lives in New York with her husband, Alan, a former member of the Wells College Board of Trustees.

About Wells College

The mission of Wells College is to educate students to think critically, reason wisely, and act humanely as they cultivate meaningful lives. Through Wells’ academic program, residential atmosphere, and community activities, students learn and practice the ideals of the liberal arts. The Wells experience prepares students to appreciate complexity and difference, to embrace new ways of knowing, to be creative, and to respond ethically to the interdependent worlds to which they belong. Committed to excellence in all areas of its reach, Wells College equips students for lifelong learning and for sharing the privileges of education with others.

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