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25 Women Leaders in UK Healthcare (part 2)

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25 Women in UK healthcare, Part 2   (Click here for Part 1)

Gene therapy pioneer


Cell and gene therapy is definitely the most exciting development in biopharma research, promising breakthroughs and even cures for previously untreatable diseases.

Pioneers in the field include some notable women – such as CRISPR’s co-developers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier – although women remain in the minority in both the R&D and business functions of firms in the area.

One notable exception to that is Soraya Bekkali, president, head of R&D at Gyroscope, a UK firm developing gene therapies for eye diseases. One of Europe’s most experienced drug development leaders in the field, Soraya and her colleagues could have one of the most transformative gene therapies in the industry’s pipeline on their hands.

Eye diseases are at the forefront of the gene therapy revolution because delivery into the eye is much easier than systemic dosing, and it is also easier to gauge the outcome of the therapy.

Between 2017 and March 2019 Soraya served as CEO and CMO of Gyroscope and led the company successfully to clinical stage.

After a merger with fellow Syncona stablemate Orbit, Soraya has taken on the R&D lead role, charged with developing and eventually gaining approval for its lead investigational gene therapy, GT005 for advanced dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Prior to joining Gyroscope, Soraya served as SVP Chief Medical Officer of Lysogene, a clinical stage biotech developing gene therapy products in rare central nervous system diseases, serving in global gene therapy development at Sanofi before that.

Building on the research of its scientific founders, the Gyroscope team has been working relentlessly over the last two years, and earlier this year took its lead candidate into the clinic.

President, HBA, London chapter


Andreea is president of the London chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), a voluntary role she combines with her career at Pfizer where she is currently artwork implementation manager.

The last few years have seen a new surge of energy behind advancing women in society and in the workplace, where there remain serious disparities with men, including a pay gap and representation at the most senior levels.

The HBA is helping to advance this cause in the world of life sciences, which despite encouraging signs of change, also still has some way to go to reach gender parity. There is ample evidence that greater diversity (in gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background) helps to create more successful businesses, but these cultural shifts take time and determination to bring about.

Andreea exemplifies this determination. Her disarming charm and commitment to the cause is helping the HBA build its profile in the UK, and spread its message.

Her colleagues at the HBA praised her ‘tireless energy and relentless pursuit of the organisation’s mission’. They added: “Through her leadership she has driven impressive membership gains and an increasingly strong community of like-minded women and men eager to be a positive force for change.

Andreea explained: “Being able to help others achieve their goals is a motivator for me. As a child, I was inspired by my parents who are both leaders in their own way.

“My mother was the leader in our family, ensuring the household was run with precision and integrity. My father had his own company which required his leadership to navigate many challenges. Growing up with two strong leaders has made me who I am. It has helped frame my ambitions and made me want to strive to lead and motivate others the way my parents motivated me.”

She said her professional ambition is to become an experienced and trusted business leader, and added her role as HBA president mirrors the kind of general manager role she is aiming for in the near future.

“Working in Pfizer has offered me some great opportunities to develop my career from development plans to coaching, mentorship and sponsorship. If I’m honest, I consider myself a sum of all the mentors I’ve benefited from – this role allows me to pass on their learnings and show them my appreciation.”

Pharma leader

Liz Henderson

“Mentors can and should be both senior and junior people who you look to for advice, guidance and support”

Read the full interview with Liz, Merck UK & Ireland's managing director here

NHS leader

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A force of nature and an inspirational leader in the highly pressured world of NHS managers, Sarah-Jane Marsh began her health service career via the graduate management scheme, where her ability was soon spotted.

She became Britain’s youngest hospital leader when she was appointed chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 2007 at the age of 32, subsequently helping it win Provider Trust of the Year in the Health Service Journal awards.

She then led the creation of the first integrated Women’s and Children’s Trust, with the merger of Birmingham Women’s with Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 2017.

Under her leadership, the Children’s Trust also became the first stand-alone hospital in the UK to receive an ‘Outstanding’ rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Renowned for her innovative approach to improving NHS services, Sarah leads by example by putting patients and staff at the heart of her work.

Talking about leadership earlier this year, she said it was about having clear vision and values, and articulating those every day.

“Rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty, that’s really the best way to learn. But having role models is also really important, and sometimes doing courses and taking time out can be really helpful for reflection.”

On the new challenge of delivering integrated care, she said: “It’s less about leading for organisations, and more about leading for systems, and the way our patients and service users move between our organisations. That requires helping people through change, doing even more communication and thinking about even more improvement.”

Diversity champion

Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill is one of the NHS’ most senior nurses, and one of her roles is in promoting race equality within the health service. She is director of Workforce Race Equality Standard Implementation for NHS England and deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing.

For International Women’s Day this year, she wrote: “Women in the 21st century are told they can do and be anything, yet we know that for some women it is truer than for others, and for women it isn’t as true as it is for some men.”

She added: “We cannot as women achieve equity with men unless they act as our advocates and supporters; we need our male allies. We need men to speak up for the unfairness and inequity in this gap and at the same time we need white women to speak up for their black and minority ethnic (BME) sisters, because across the board BME people earn less than their white counterparts; this is the race equality pay gap.”

Population health leader

Sarah Price

Greater Manchester is the pioneer that is leading England’s health and social care into the future, away from the old siloed, disjointed services towards integrated care.

It’s also looking to switch the focus from ‘picking up the pieces’ towards population health and preventative care, a radical switch that is needed to help people manage their health and keep healthcare sustainable.

Greater Manchester Health and Social Care partnership, formed in 2016, has pooled resources from local authorities, hospitals and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to create  a single £6bn budget to provide integrated service, and focus on long-term drivers of ill health and sickness.

One of the region’s leaders is Sarah Price, executive lead for population health and commissioning at the partnership.

Price has to make a relatively small slice of that budget – £30m – go a long way in population health initiatives, but it’s an exciting venture for the region, as it looks to improve on its below-average scores on many metrics compared to the rest of England.

Price’s projects include incentivising behaviour change through a mobile app-tracked points system, aiming to influence wider determinants.

Another major problem being tackled is unemployment due to health problems, with 240,000 people out of work in Greater Manchester, 150,000 of those for health reasons. A small fund has been set up to provide an early help scheme to help prevent people from dropping out of employment when they fall ill.

Another major programme involves joined-up health commissioning with police – diverting people out of the criminal justice system, especially in mental health – something that is simply not possible when systems are siloed.

Sarah says the region is seeing early signs of this joined-up approach working, with smoking rates declining and the gap between Greater Manchester and the rest of England narrowing.

She told a recent King’s Fund meeting: “Moving from picking up the pieces to a preventative approach – if we can achieve that in Greater Manchester, I think we’ll be doing a fantastic job.”

NHS digital leader


Tara Donnelly is the chief digital officer at NHS England and oversees a portfolio of citizen-facing digital services which aim to help people engage with the NHS online and also nurture a culture of self-care among the public and patients.

That’s a big cultural shift, but can’t happen until the NHS has developed robust and user-friendly digital services.

The NHS app is seen as particularly important in providing the public with a digital ‘front door’ to the NHS, helping users to access their own records and NHS services. All GP practices in England will be connected to the NHS app by 1 July.

The hope is that it becomes a trusted and user-friendly hub, and that it will help nurture an environment in which other commercially developed apps can also thrive.

There are plenty of challenges – IT budgets in the NHS are under new pressure and a new stand-alone organisation, NHSX, is taking over many strategic aspects of the digital agenda.

Nevertheless, the NHS needs leaders who know how to make big strategic projects work at a local level: Tara has this frontline experience, having previously served as chief executive of London NHS’ pioneering digital hub, Health Innovation Network.

She also has decades of experience in leading change in the health service, rising rapidly into senior roles over her 30 years in the NHS, where she started as a ward housekeeper when she was just 18 years old.

Abortion rights campaigner

Sarah Ewart

Sarah Ewart is a woman of enormous personal courage who is trying to change the rules on abortion in Northern Ireland, where it remains illegal in almost all cases.

She is mounting a legal challenge in the UK High Court, basing the case on her own experience.

In 2013 Sarah was in her early 20s, married and pregnant with her first child, when she was told a fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) meant the baby would not survive after birth.

However, she was denied an abortion in her native Northern Ireland, and was forced to travel to England for a termination – necessary because the province’s laws weren’t updated in line with the rest of the UK when abortions were legalised in 1967.  The procedure is only permitted if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Rape, incest or diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) are not grounds for a legal abortion in Northern Ireland.

Sarah has now taken the High Court case in her own name, after a previous Supreme Court appeal, led by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, failed last year.

She has spoken of the huge emotional distress and financial burden of having to make the trip to England for the abortion.

She and abortion rights campaigners hope her testimony can bring about a change in the law, granting women in Northern Ireland the same rights as those in the rest of the UK.

Mental health campaigner

Natasha Devon

Natasha Devon is a writer and activist, an independent voice championing issues such as mental health in young people.

She tours schools and colleges across the UK, delivering talks and conducting research on mental health, body image, gender and social equality.

She is also a passionate advocate of gender equality rights, campaigning in the media and fighting resolutely against misogynist social media trolls.

Devon is a fiercely independent champion of her causes and was sacked from her role as the government’s children’s mental health tsar in 2015, after she spoke out against inaction on mental health issues in schools.

She campaigns both on and offline to make the world a fairer place. Her current projects are the Mental Health Media Charter and Where’s Your Head At? which aims to change the law to protect the mental health of UK workers.

AI pioneer


After a wave of hype, AI is now starting to show its value across the life sciences sector, harnessing big data and real-world evidence (RWE) to derive new insights for the ultimate benefit of patients.

Dr Harietta Eleftherochorinou, IQVIA’s senior principal RWE AI and machine learning (ML), is a leading light in applying the techniques to pharma’s commercial challenges, including creating personalising medical treatment.

Highlights of her work include the integrated analytics roadmap on personalised healthcare for over 20 healthcare organisations across Europe, USA and Africa, large-scale big data lake implementations for ML-led applications in pharma and real-world ML/AI platforms for scalable disease diagnostics, progression and treatment.

Rare disease leader


England’s groundbreaking 100,000 Genomes Project hasn’t been a scientific endeavour achieved exclusively through lab technology – it has required thousands of rare disease patients to volunteer, as well as a handful of clinical leaders across the country to translate the cutting edge science into meaningful benefits for those patients.

Dr Larissa Kerecuk is a doctor who has made an outstanding contribution to the project and to the bigger cause of helping advance treatment of children with rare diseases. A consultant paediatric nephrologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Larissa led the development of the UK and indeed the world’s first dedicated paediatric rare disease centre in Birmingham, which opened in 2018.

Dr Kerecuk is the lead for the 100K Genome Project for her hospital and helped make it the top recruiting hospital for the region. Indeed, the hospital is among the most active clinical trial centres in the UK,  attracting inward investment and addressing unmet need in patients.

Above all else, it is Larissa’s compassion for her patients that shines through, and she has been dubbed ‘Wonder Woman’ for her determination to improve care.

This includes setting up a support group for families, called the Marvellous Superstar Club, which Larissa raised money for by absailing down a local Birmingham landmark.

GP Leader

Nikki Kanani

Dr Nikki Kanani is director of primary care for England, charged with helping general practice thrive and adapt, and still retain its place as the trusted gateway to the 21st century NHS.

However, general practice is struggling under growing demand and a huge recruitment and retention problem among GPs. As a generation of older primary care doctors retire, the NHS is struggling to find new recruits, and much of this is due to the high workload and non-family-friendly long hours.

Dr Kanani is a GP herself, and has two young children, so she knows first-hand the kind of pressures the job comes with.

Nikki’s career path has shown her long-term vision for science and for promoting women. She co-founded STEMMsisters with her sister, a social enterprise supporting young people to study science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine.

She has brought that energy to her leadership role since she was appointed last year. She played a key role in persuading the government to commit £4.5bn of its recent £20.5bn uplift for the NHS to primary and community care – a far larger proportion than in recent years.

She has just negotiated the most substantial changes to the GP contract in 15 years, producing a deal that incentivises practices to join new networks covering 30,000-50,000 patients in exchange for access to new funding streams.

The extra funding and the NHS Long Term Plan mean primary care is set for major change over the next five to ten years. There are some positive signs on GP recruitment, with numbers hitting their highest ever recorded level, but this must also be matched by retaining experienced mid-career GPs in order to sustain the service. She said: “Ultimately, we need to make things more enjoyable and sustainable in primary care and out of that will come a better offer for patients.”

Healthcare partnerships, cures for patients


Gilead is leading a remarkable transformation in pharma – moving from long-term treatments to cures.

It has brought to market not one but two groundbreaking drugs in hepatitis C, Harvoni, and in diffuse large B cell lymphoma, Yescarta, one of the first CAR-T therapies to reach the market.

The high cost of these treatments, and the need for entirely new healthcare infrastructures to ensure they reach patients is an enormous challenge for Gilead and for the NHS.

Charged with leading this mission in the UK and Ireland is Hilary Hutton-Squire.

Appointed general manager in early 2018, Hilary has had a big impact in improving the dialogue between the NHS, government and industry. This is demonstrated in Gilead securing two truly groundbreaking partnerships with NHS England in CAR-T therapy and hep C last year and this year respectively.

In April, NHS England unveiled a deal with several pharma companies working in hep C, confirming they would work in partnership to eliminate the disease in England well ahead of the WHO goal of 2030.

NHS England judged Gilead’s offer to be the best, giving it a ‘Gold’ partner status.

Hilary commented: “What made it happen was openness on both sides to have a constructive dialogue. That’s required the breaking down of quite a lot of cultural barriers.”

The challenge of hep C elimination is not so much in achieving successful treatment but more about finding and treating people with the disease, who often don’t know they have it.

Gilead has been working with drug treatment services, prisons and building expertise since 2013.

After all this time, Hilary said she has to remind her team how remarkable the hep C elimination programme is. “We’re going to work with the NHS to eliminate this disease in the UK. Wow. I see people’s faces light up when we talk about it. It’s a really inspiring and engaging thing to be working on."

20th June 2019

20th June 2019

From: Healthcare



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