What's your background in, and what brought you to the world of technology transfer?
I'd always been interested in disease and doing something where I could help make an impact, so I started with a Microbiology degree at UCL, followed by a PhD at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now CRUK), cloning the gene for Keratin 19 which was thought to be implicated in certain epithelial cancers. Then came a postdoc in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, looking at late gene regulation of Cytomegalovirus, which affects people who are immunocompromised. I spent just over three years at Stanford, enjoying sunny California. Having then made the decision to move away from bench research I looked at becoming a patent attorney, as I was interested in the application of research which often required the registration of intellectual property such as patents before pharma will develop it. It was a slow year for recruitment(!), so when I saw an advert in New Scientist for a job in the TTO for the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LI) in London, I decided to change my career path.
How did you end up working at UCLTF?
After working at the LI for 13 years, I got a job at LifeArc, where I was until May last year. In 2016, LifeArc were open to the idea of me doing a secondment to learn some investment-related skills, and it was Anne Lane of UCLB who recommended me going to UCLTF. I was in Simon Goldman's team for 15 months, learning a lot, and helping some really smart academics working on some amazing science. At the end of my secondment, I went back to LifeArc and with my colleagues helped set up a seed fund, which we'd had a huge amount of interest in, its aim being to support early stage biotech companies in the UK who were developing novel therapeutics. I secured investment for 4 such companies and served as NED on their Boards. After leaving LifeArc last year, I decided to set myself up as a consultant, supporting university entrepreneurs, helping them to successfully secure investments. In the meantime, UCLTF offered me the opportunity of working with them for a few months. It was a fantastic opportunity to go back to working with the teams at UCLB and Albion, which have a great sense of camaraderie, and the supportive environment means that we get the best out of the projects and academics.
How have things changed at UCLTF since you were last here?
Since the last secondment, new people have come into the team, so I can learn from their experiences, and I now have an insight into some of the challenges early-stage companies face. It was a great opportunity to come back, knowing some people from before, and that I would have a lot of job satisfaction. I feel a strong link with UCL, as it's where my academic life started, and working at UCLTF means I get to work with top-class academics and clinicians - it's a really great place to be.
What's the best part of working in technology transfer and investment?
Knowing that something you've worked on is potentially going to make a drug that can help patients and could make a tangible difference to their lives. What drives me is seeing the commercial potential in someone's research and seeing how we can harness the science to generate new drugs. It's very rewarding work and I'm pleased to be part of the team working on this.
And, what's the worst part?
There's a finite amount of capital, but it makes you focused and efficient, and you have to be smart with the money that is available. It's also hard saying no, when people have put a lot of work in. Some of the time, their research might not be quite ready, or sometimes it might be well ahead of its time and it can be difficult to find a commercial partner who understands what its commercial application might be. We have to find a constructive way to help, that means they come back to us and we can help them be successful in the future.
Are there any important lessons you have learnt throughout your career?
Don't take anything too personally; it's important to be prepared for setbacks and develop resilience, so you can adapt your thinking on projects and be open to change. Patience and pragmatism are also really important, because some technologies or projects take time to develop and have a lot of hurdles to jump over.
How can we encourage the next generation of women to enter into technology transfer and investment?
There's a lot that women can offer in investment as both investors and entrepreneurs, and to miss out on the experiences of 50% of the population is nuts. Women bring different skills, and different mindsets to the investment space - there needs to be a diversity of opinions. There are also female-focused technologies that need female input and female ingenuity, for example designing a machine that makes mammograms more comfortable. Mentoring is really valuable, finding a forum in which to put your knowledge and help those who are interested or to spark that interest, and help women understand what this space is like. It's not an area that I think women need to be concerned about entering, it's hard work, but a lot of fun.