Recent scientific discoveries are opening up exciting opportunities for scientists in the field of personalised healthcare.
This is a blog and custom podcast on behalf of AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca retain sole responsibility for this content.
Dr Maria Orr is a molecular geneticist by training.
Dr Thorsten Gutjahr is a molecular biologist by training.
Both of them have successfully made the transition from academia to industry and are now leading the charge to bring innovative targeted medicines to the patients who will benefit most.
Personalised healthcare (PHC) aims to deliver the right treatment to the right patient through the use of companion diagnostics, clinical indicators or other diagnostic tools. Recent scientific progress made in PHC is remarkable and Dr Gutjahr and Dr Orr are operating at the sharp end, translating the latest scientific discoveries into clinical benefits for patients.
In this podcast they share the approaches and attitudes that carried them through their different career paths and earned them successes like the recent delivery of the first ever companion diagnostic to select patients with BRCA mutations for the treatment of ovarian cancer using AstraZeneca’s PARP inhibitor, and the first ever blood-based companion diagnostic test using circulating tumour DNA to identify patients with EGFR mutations for lung cancer treatment.
Over 80 per-cent of the drug projects across AstraZeneca’s pipeline follow a PHC strategy. More than 50 per-cent of the drugs the company aims to launch over the next five years are being developed with a companion diagnostic allowing the selection of patients for those treatments. Success demands a diverse team of research and medical scientists with complementary skills and experience including geneticists, translational scientists and companion diagnostic experts to make it all happen.
“I’ve been with AstraZeneca for 20 years and when I first started I was involved in early research – the drug discovery side of things. As my time progressed I moved into clinical development which I really didn’t know an awful lot about at the time…” says Orr. Her manager gave her the confidence to move out of her comfort zone and learn from her new drug development colleagues. Her latest role has moved her even closer to the patient, working with regulatory authorities around the world to secure parallel approval of AstraZeneca’s new PARP inhibitor and its companion diagnostic test to select patients with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.
Gutjahr took a different route to his role at AstraZeneca. Before joining the pharmaceutical industry, he was a postdoc at University of California, San Diego’s (UCSD) School of Medicine laboratory. Attracted by the potential to further grow, develop and continue the exciting scientific advances in biomarker science, he moved into an industry environment. After a spell at Roche, latterly as Head of Biomarkers in Roche Diagnostics, he joined AstraZeneca a year ago as VP, Global Head of Companion Diagnostics.
Gutjahr has two critical considerations when looking for good people to join the team at AstraZeneca: “Skills and experience are important but also a person’s attitude – what they bring to the team and their personality. There are many opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry and joining doesn’t always require a PhD or equivalent. There is a whole variety of backgrounds that we are looking for and it’s the diversity of thoughts, ideas and creativity that bring us the best solutions, pushing the boundaries of science to develop innovative new medicines for patients”.