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Women in STEM with Dr Jane Osbourn

Posted: 19 December 2022 | | No comments yet

Drug Target Review’s Ria Kakkad recently spoke with Dr Jane Osbourn about her experience as a woman in STEM.

Women scientists nurses and doctors fighting against coronavirus. Feminist steminist illustration. Female Doctors, nurses and scientists together.

It is estimated that women consist of 49 percent of the global life sciences workforce, which is a higher percentage than other science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) industries1. However, women make up only 10 percent of boards and only 20 percent of leadership teams, even though half of entry level positions are filled by women2.

Although the industry has made great strides over the past few decades, there is still much work to be done.

At PEGS Europe, I sat down with Dr Jane Osbourn OBE from Alchemab who spoke about her experiences as a woman in STEM.

Osbourn has had an extensive career, where she started out as an academic interested in molecular biology. She fell into medical science after completing her postdoctoral studies at the University of Cambridge, UK, where she researched the evolution of restenosis and disease mechanisms.

She then moved onto industry, working at Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) in the early 1990s. There, Osbourn spent time building early human phage display libraries which created one of the first monoclonal antibody drugs adalimumab.

More recently, Osbourn has co-founded another biotechnology company called Alchemab, which aims to analyse target agnostic methods of finding new therapies.

Embracing diversity

“Pharmaceutics and life sciences needs to embrace diversity,” answered Osbourn when asked whether being a woman in the pharmaceuticals industry is a challenge. Interestingly, she highlights broader diversity, outside of gender and ethnicity and suggests creating an environment that encourages heterogeneity of style, thought and ways of contributing to the field.

“I think it is the important thing is to create an environment where everyone feels that they can contribute and speak and put their own eyes forward,” added Osbourn.

Osbourn’s journey in drug discovery has been successful, and this shone through when presenting a Plenary Keynote at PEGS Europe. However, she admitted that early on in her career, she was not always as confident as she is today:

“A lot of the barriers can be self-imposed. In my early career, I certainly thought my ideas did not particularly matter or no one wanted to listen to me, but they did. Once you start speaking out, people are very engaging.”

Girls in STEM

During our conversation, Osbourn emphasised involving children, especially girls, in science. She suggests “interest must start right at the beginning, and we need to encourage more girls in schools to take STEM subjects. If you create interest in a child, then they will go and explore for themselves.”

There are a couple of ways in which the education system can help encourage this, firstly with female teachers. In a study published in Social Problems, researchers the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Duke University, both US, found a “positive and significant” link between the proportion of female math and science teachers in a secondary and the likelihood that a female student will choose a STEM-related degree.

Secondly, Osbourne proposed to make science engaging by including “competitions, getting students to create posters and designing experiments. If the subject is seen as fun, it becomes a hobby.”

The importance of building a network

“If you are introverted, just try and start speaking out a little bit and get out of your comfort zone,” advised Osbourn. “Ask that question at a conference for the first time, which is a big deal. Ask a question in a meeting. Try and force yourself to engage in different ways than you might normally.”

Finally, Osbourn suggests building a network of support. She explained that you might not need connections for years after meeting them, but they can always come in handy when you need some advice or support.

headshot of Dr Jane Osbourn OBEDr Jane Osbourn OBE, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences UK, is Chief Scientific Officer at Alchemab Therapeutics, which focusses on identifying self-protective antibodies as therapies for neurodegeneration and oncology. She was an early employee of Cambridge Antibody Technology, which became MedImmune, the biologics arm of AstraZeneca, where she contributed to the development of phage display technology, authored many key publications and patents and contributed to the discovery and development of eight marketed drugs. She is passionate about the development of the biotechnology sector and served as Chair of the UK BioIndustry Association from 2015-2019. She is also the Chair of Mogrify, a Cambridge-based cell-therapy company, a Director of Cambridge Enterprise, and of Babraham Research Campus. In 2019 she was awarded an OBE for services to drug discovery, development and biotechnology, and the Scrip Lifetime Achievement Award for contribution to the pharma industry.

References

  1. Ellis M. 3 Ways Life Science Companies can better engage female employees [Internet]. Proclinical. 2018 [cited 2022Dec13]. Available from: https://www.proclinical.com/blogs/2018-9/3-ways-life-science-companies-can-engage-female-employees
  2. Opening the path to a diverse future [Internet]. Opening the Path to a Diverse Future | #PathToDiversity. [cited 2022Dec13]. Available from: https://www.liftstream.com/pathtodiversity.html

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