She has 20 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry and 10 years’ experience in antifungals. Her background is in internal medicine, undertaking her medical training at University College and the Middlesex School of Medicine, London.
- Could you give us an overview of your work?
As global head of medical affairs in a small biotech, my role is quite varied with no two days being the same. I have a team in Europe and the US so engaging with the team, mentoring, coaching and managing are key elements of my role. Engaging with clinical experts and academic societies on clinical trials, guidelines and advocacy. I work on our publications strategy ensuring we get our data into the right congresses and journals in the right timeframe. I work with partner Shionogi to align on strategy. As an executive team member I add input to corporate strategy, budget oversight, hiring decisions, research strategy as well as being a key liaison figure between the clinical development team and medical affairs. I am involved with the research strategy both for pivotal clinical trials as well as investigator initiated research. Compliance falls under my remit – in the UK the compliance signatory is typically a senior medic or pharmacist so I am the final arbiter on external-facing projects. I also work on our industry-academic partnership on the use of agricultural fungicides and their potential to drive resistance in man.
- When did you realize you were interested in science?
I decided I wanted to be a doctor when I was a teenager. I always loved science although I was a pretty good student across the board. Both my sisters had gone down the arts route with one doing an English and drama degree and one doing law, so I wanted to go down a different route and medicine was the choice I made. My mother heard a radio programme when I was about 14 where a senior doctor said it was important that doctors were not just scientists, so that also shaped the subjects I chose, so I had a broad range and not just science and math.
- Could you describe your personal journey bringing us up to where you are now?
I joined industry in 1999 when there was a bottle neck for clinical training roles in the NHS and I did not get the training post I wanted. A friend of mine who was a sales rep for Astra Zeneca asked me if I had ever considered industry as he thought I would be well-suited, so I did some research and applied for a few role as a medical advisor, and was hired by Boehringer Ingelheim. I spent about 6 years there, learning my craft, sitting the Diploma in Pharmaceutical Medicine exam and also starting the post-graduate training programme in Pharmaceutical Medicine. I then moved on to a small start-up for a couple of years and was then hired by Gilead Sciences to lead on their antifungal drug, AmBisome and also to launch a new inhaled antibiotic in CF. When I was at Gilead, I did the initial due diligence on a novel antifungal from a small UK Biotech called F2G and met members of the executive team when they came to pitch. Gilead did not acquire the drug, but I maintained an interest and several years later, after 3 years as UK medical director at Alexion, when I had set up my own consultancy, a clinician I had kept in touch with, suggested I get in touch with F2G. I sent a note on LinkedIn to the then CEO and was invited to meet the executive team for coffee. They hired me on an initial consultancy basis and about 6 months later was invited to join the executive team (the first woman to do so) and they offered me a permanent position. I have been with them ever since.
- What challenges did you face (as a woman or otherwise) along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?
I have been amazed at how women in industry may not advocate for other women and can feel threatened by other strong, successful women. I have also learned that women (and men) who are carers (and I have a disabled son), be it parents of small children or caring for elderly or disabled relatives, typically have great organisational, project and time management skills. Whilst many might think that a woman coming back from maternity leave might have a ‘baby brain’, I have found quite the opposite. They want to start using their brains, they want to get back to being their professional selves and not just identified as a ‘new mother’, so give them interesting things to do and they will pay you back for your faith in them. Senior managers often underestimate what their parent/carer staff are able to do and are willing to do, so don’t write them off, don’t give them the grotty, simple jobs, give them something interesting and challenging to get their teeth into.
- What ignites your passion in your current role?
It’s quite rare to get the chance to work on a truly innovative drug, one that is not a ‘me-too’ and that has the potential to change peoples’ lives for the better. I am responsible for our compassionate access programme and have the privilege of looking into patients’ lives and seeing how awful invasive fungal diseases can be. When a clinician then tells me 3 or 4 months later that the patient has survived or that the affected limb was saved and not amputated, that is an amazing thing to be part of.
- What is your current work ethos/style?
I work from home and have done since before Covid. You have to be disciplined, as it’s so easy to get distracted. I am also someone who has to work to a deadline – if I have lots of time to do things then I will not start until time is drawing in. With my team, I hope that I am someone who gives clear direction and then takes a step back. There is no point in hiring people with expertise if you are then going to micromanage them or do the work for them. You have to trust the team to deliver what you ask from them. You may need to provide pointers, and it can be a challenge to identify when someone is struggling with a project, so I hope I am seen as approachable and supportive. I like people and I like to meet and speak to different people and to learn directly from the experts.
- Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?
Take time to learn your craft. I never really had a career plan until later in my pharma career. I did want to make sure I did my professional training and did that whilst also having a family, so you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. You just have to accept that if you take time out to have children, it will take you longer to do your exams or complete your training. You can have a great career and also be a mother/carer. Manage your expectations and set boundaries. I have not always set my boundaries and put my family first, as I thought that was the right thing to do. If your employer is not very supportive, then go somewhere else. You do not have to be in the office all hours or travelling around the world to have a great career. If you want to do that, then make sure you have great support at home to look after your children and family. I got a phone call from my childminder to tell me she was not going to come in that day as she was resigning. I happened to be sitting on a 747 jet, waiting to fly to San Francisco! Fortunately I was able to get hold of my mum and my husband and ensure one of them was able to get to school and pick up the kids. You need to have a back-up plan!