Women in Science: Nadège Pelletier on the leap from academia to human health

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

Women in Science: Nadège Pelletier from childhood microscope to CSO

Related tags Drug discovery Manufacturing Supply chain Pharmacology Immunology Neurology

Nadège, chief scientific officer at Barinthus Biotherapeutics, tells us how her high-school passion for biology set her on an exciting careerpath.

OSP: Could you give us an overview of your work? 

As the CSO, I lead Barinthus Bio’s scientific and technical teams in all phases of drug discovery and early development, from project initiation and platform development, up to clinical PD readouts and manufacturing. This is a very exciting time as we do have a few programmes with clinical readouts coming up soon. At the same time, we are building up the next generation of antigen-specific immunotherapy pipeline for people suffering from chronic diseases, whether in the autoimmunity, infectious diseases, or oncology field. 

OSP: When did you realise you were interested in science as a young child, teen, older?

At school, I was always interested in science. I was given my first microscope when I was seven years old! There were subjects that I liked more than others, but I always came back to science: biology, chemistry, physics were areas that I really loved. During high school, I had two professors who got me excited about biology, so much so that I continued on this path. At the time, I particularly enjoyed digging into the complex biology systems: the neurology circuitry, the immune system, and beyond. Immunology was already fascinating me back then. To this day, science still drives me and remains a true passion. 

OSP: Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

Human biology has always piqued my interest, particularly neurology, immunology, and genetics. This is why I decided to pursue my PhD in immunology. Ironically, while completing my post-doctorate studies in California, I realised that academia wasn’t for me. I wanted to be closer to human health so that I could make a difference for people living with diseases that impact the immune system. That’s when I decided to jump into the pharmaceutical industry, and I haven’t looked back since.

I’ve been lucky to be involved in several preclinical and clinical programmes in all phases of development throughout my career – most of these focused on autoimmunity and chronic infectious diseases during my time at Roche and Novartis. I’ve also been leading several projects focused on novel immune modulation strategies to either stimulate the immune system in diseases like chronic Hepatitis B or, on the contrary, dampen it to restore immune balance in autoimmune diseases. This experience is what I’m excited to bring to Barinthus Bio as we look to advance out our pipeline of T-cell immunotherapeutics, leveraging our antigen delivery platforms to specifically engage the right T-cells to fight targeted diseases with limited treatment options and real-life impact.

My passion for science, immunology specifically, coupled with my philosophy to push my learning as far as I can has forged a path that allowed me to work in an industry I really enjoy.

OSP: What challenges did you face - as a woman or otherwise - along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

The science industry has historically been very male dominated in top-level positions, but I think there is a realisation that women are bringing a different set of skills to the table and that diversity is key to success. We see more and more women reaching very high-level positions, so we are trending in the right direction; however, there is still some room for improvement.
Despite the growing understanding of the value of women in science, we have to look closely at how we can address the gender discrepancy and encourage more females to pursue their passion for science when they are young to ignite a passion to study it in school, to enter science industries, to learn and grow and reach top-level positions.

Many people still talk about the glass ceiling, but I don’t think that exists so much anymore, at least in the biology sector. Today it is more about finding the right environment and path that will support women in every stage of their career journey, so they dare and are encouraged in accessing these high-level positions.

Women can sometimes need this nudge – we are known to have strong group dynamics, taking the opinion of people around them into consideration and making shared decisions. By being more open to opinions and different ways of thinking, this can sometimes come across as women being less assertive or less confident because they’re seen as seeking the inputs of others. So, in the end, they end up being less visible than men in similar positions. This isn’t the case, and we should celebrate this strong sense of collaboration women bring to the table.

OSP: What ignites your passion in your current role?

Barinthus Bio has fostered a collaborative, people-focused, and open culture and this shows in the breadth of our platforms, which will open up more possibilities as we continue to develop them further. Our work with very specific, targeted approaches is aimed at curing chronic diseases – this is, for me, the next generation of therapeutics. Though the work is challenging, it is truly rewarding to be a part of developing treatments that can have so much impact on people’s lives.

Our team makes this possible – we are a group of incredibly innovative, dynamic individuals. We are full of ideas, and we are lucky to be in a work culture that enables all of us to voice these ideas and opinions. This is where leadership becomes so important, helping to fuel passion and motivation in people, to push them to their full potential and give them the determination to be a part of a bigger vision.

OSP: What is your current work ethos/style? 

There is nothing more important than the team – working together as​ a team, not just being in​ a team. As managers and leaders, we need to make sure we focus on people first and foremost. Being honest, transparent, and inclusive plus being sure to communicate with the team is fundamental to success. I believe in being open and present, but not directive; in sharing a vision and goals, but not micromanaging every aspect of the process.

OSP: Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

There is so much I could say here because there is nothing more important than inspiring our next generation of women to pursue science and to arm them with the self-confidence that they are not only capable, but that they also possess what it takes to be successful. Women may come across as not being as assertive or outspoken as our male counterparts. But I would encourage women to step outside of their comfort zone - go for the promotion, ask to be the lead on a project, ask for the pay rise. Don’t limit yourself or second guess the value you bring to the board room, lab, or any scientific arena you are in. When women are educated and supported, we can confidently break industry barriers in science and any other field.

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