Leigh Brody joined the UCL Technology Fund in January 2021, after ten years of experience in the life sciences. Having started as a bench scientist at the Broad Institute, she went on to do a PhD in Biomedical Sciences, which led her into industry after a technology she developed was the basis for a spinout company. She later went on to help build the commercial technologies of a CRISPR gene editing company, eventually becoming the CSO and became an integral part of the company’s acquisition. More recently, she was Executive Director of Platform Strategy at Quell Therapeutics. Leigh has a BSc in Biochemistry from Simmons University and a PhD from Imperial College London.
As a UCLTF life sciences Investment Manager, Leigh speaks about her career experiences, and the women who have influenced her.
What lead you to the role of UCLTF Investment Manager?
After completing my BSc, I undertook a PhD at Imperial College London. The technology I developed during my PhD was patented and licensed, but the company failed. Despite the failure, I learned many valuable lessons, and discovered that I was passionate about the intersection of science and early-stage commercialisation, pointing me in the direction of my future career.
What do you find most exciting about working in life sciences?
Meeting with scientists and academics, who are leaders in their field, creating solutions or technologies that can change the world. There are some really exciting advances on the horizon such as immunotherapies, gene editing and more recently, vaccine development. UCL has a track record of delivering technologies that have shaped the life science space in many ways.
Who are the women who have inspired you throughout your career?
Mentorship, at any age or stage in my career, has been so important. My advisor at university was my Biochemistry Department Head, Prof Jennifer Canfield, who had this amazing ability to teach complex topics with clarity, and instil a love of the subject. While at the Broad Institute, my supervisor, Jen Grenier was outright brilliant and taught me a lot about navigating a career in STEM. In the investment world, Debbie Harland at SROne was instrumental in providing the support I needed along the way.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women working in STEM?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask questions or fail. Be resilient; some sectors or companies don’t support women like they should, whether it’s a conscious or unconscious bias, and it’s good to be aware that these challenges exist and have a strategy for how you want to deal with them when they come up. Also, it’s ok not to know everything. Part of being a good scientist or investor is knowing the steps needed to obtain certain data for decision making.
How do you – in line with IWD’s theme for 2021 – #ChooseToChallenge inequality in the workplace?
Over the years I’ve done some volunteer work for STEM groups and look to continue that within my current role. In many industries, there are more women in junior-level roles than senior-level roles, but I can say there is a conscious presence of diversity within UCLTF. There is still work to be done, for the field as a whole, but being accessible and willing to discuss these topics is the first step to creating awareness for where workplaces can improve.