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Q&A: Pernille Laerkegaard Hansen

Gemma Jones interviews AstraZeneca's Senior Research Director, Head of Bioscience


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I have a wonderful family, my husband and two sons. It’s never boring to be with them and it’s always very inspiring and filled with love. At the same time, I am blessed with a job that keeps me on my toes with new challenges to solve every day.

What’s the best thing about working in drug discovery?

I am very results-oriented and it is a joy to work in a fast-paced environment delivering high-quality results. Our scientific projects are world class and I work with many people within AstraZeneca’s R&D Biotech Unit at the forefront of chronic kidney disease (CKD) research. The best thing about my work is that one day – hopefully – this will lead to new medicines. I will be immensely proud on that day that I will have been part of delivering a new CKD medicine to patients based on our science. What’s the worst thing about working in drug discovery? The most challenging aspect of my job is balancing tight deadlines with the methodological approach that is ingrained in me as a scientist – science and the thinking process are not always straightforward and fast; it can take time. It is a fine balance as I also really enjoy the speed in pharma.

Which buzzwords/office jargon/ concepts get on your nerves?

Recently many presentations start with the word: ‘Imagine...’ For me, imagining is not very scientific; I prefer to have an ambitious vision based on science and facts.

What’s your favourite bar or eatery?

In Gothenburg, there’s a fantastic restaurant called SOMM. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is great.

Which book/film would you recommend above all others and why?

Returning recently from the American Nephrology Society meeting, I watched Hidden Figures. The movie is about female mathematicians of African- American descent who worked at NASA during the Space Race between the US and Russia. Despite the racial divide in the US at that time, mathematician Katherine Goble made the crucial calculations for the US to launch their spaceship. It reminds me of how we need to learn from history and embrace diversity in our teams.

Which person, living or dead, do you admire the most and why?

I would like to highlight the everyday heroes who make a difference by inspiring others in their endeavours. For me, one of these heroes is Professor Ole Skott, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, (pictured below) who trained and inspired many renal scientists, including me. He leads by example and inspires others, and I believe this is how we make progress in science.

Ole Skott

Who is your drug discovery hero/heroine?

At the risk of sounding too politically correct, I want to highlight Pascal Soriot, our CEO (pictured below). He has set the strategy for AstraZeneca to follow the science and return to growth, and he has made it happen. In addition, what is very important for me is how he treats employees. I was lucky to meet Pascal shortly after joining AstraZeneca. He talked to each of us, listened, asked highly relevant questions and made us all feel valued.


What has been your career highlight to date?

My career highlights are when I became a professor at the University of Southern Denmark and when I became Senior Director at AstraZeneca.

What’s your golden rule/piece of advice for someone starting a career in pharma R&D?

Say YES to new challenges and tasks. You will learn as you go. And remember to ask questions and be inquisitive.

Pernille Laerkegaard Hansen is Senior Research Director, Head of Bioscience at AstraZeneca, and a professor at the University of Southern Denmark

29th January 2019

From: Marketing



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