What’s your background?
I grew up in Dublin, in a town called Swords close to Dublin Airport. I come from a family of non-scientists: my Dad was a TV repair man, my Mum was a bookie and my brothers were in the Guards and Dublin Fire Brigade, so my decision to study Science at University College Dublin (UCD) was in no way following any kind of family tradition.
Following my first year at UCD I did well enough in my exams in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, to get a place in the sought-after Pharmacology course, after which I never looked back. I never set out with an ambition to be a leading academic, to work in drug discovery, or even in technology transfer, I just knew I really loved lab-based science and fortuitously I took to lab work like a duck to water.
Once I had completed my 4th year project placement, as part of my undergraduate, I knew a PhD was the route I wished to pursue. My undergrad supervisor offered me a PhD before I had completed and I jumped at the opportunity.
On completing my PhD, I didn’t have a burning ambition to go into academia, but I loved lab-based research so it seemed like a natural progression to move onto a postdoc. I held several postdoc positions in a variety of Institutes and Universities over the next 8 years, with work mostly focusing around platelet homeostasis, coagulation and oncology.
Why did you move beyond academia?
Having worked as a postdoc on several short-term contracts (varying from 1 year to 3 year contracts), the uncertainty over a steady income and constantly looking for a new position or further funding to support the current postdoc eventually took its toll, which prompted me to speak with my current supervisor about opportunities outside of academia.
At the time he was in the process of setting up a spin out company from Trinity College Dublin called Solvotrin Therapeutics, based on IP developed in his academic lab which I had worked on. He asked if I would be interested in working for the company. The company was by no means secure, as university spin outs often do not succeed, however, the challenge of working with a small team and setting up a business in drug discovery from scratch really appealed, so I decided to take on the challenge.
The spin out company was based between Trinity College Dublin (where the labs were) and University College Cork where the Head Office was situated. Working for the spin out I learned about pitching to investors, due diligence, project timelines, engaging with Contract Research Organisations (CROs), and managing students on placement.
Eventually I made the decision to move on from the spin out to a start-up company based in the UK, this was largely due to the changing economic climate in Ireland at the time and the uncertainty around investment in the company, and also because my partner at the time wanted to move back to the UK!
Thankfully, my extensive academic experience and my experience in working in the Solvotrin Therapeutics made me a great fit for a start-up in Liverpool called Redx, which was a biotechnology company with a focus on developing small molecules as therapeutics in oncology.
I continued with Redx for 5 years, enjoying the continuous opportunity to learn and develop, while working with a fantastic multidisciplinary team across multiple projects.