Rachel Webster: There are still barriers to mothers in STEM jobs and in the workplace in general. Women and mothers can bring amazing innovation, new perspectives, diversity in the workplace, and ultimately for a company, the power is in its people.
Intro: Ideas to Innovation from Clarivate.
Neville Hobson: In this year 2023, women in the fields of science are being recognized and celebrated around the world to honour their significant achievements and place a much-needed focus on girls entering careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM. A milestone event led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO recently marked the eighth annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
This assembly, which took place at UN headquarters in New York, was streamed online to a worldwide audience. The event’s theme centres on bringing communities forward for sustainable and equitable development. It strongly resonates with the primary goal of Women@Clarivate, one of the seven employee volunteerism initiatives at Clarivate to empower employees who identify as women and enable them to better contribute to sustainable growth and profitability.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clarivate community of women scientists contributed to COVID-19 vaccine research, working with customers to save lives around the world.
Hello and welcome to Ideas to Innovation Season 2. I’m Neville Hobson. In this episode, we have a guest who is uniquely qualified to talk about the achievements and challenges for women in science and for girls who are considering careers in STEM fields. I’m delighted to welcome Rachel Webster, who heads up oncology and biosimilars health care research and data analysis at Clarivate, based in London. Welcome, Rachel.
Rachel Webster: Happy to be here.
Neville Hobson: Me too. I’m very glad to speak with you on this topic. To begin, I’d like to ask you about your role at Clarivate and the global team that you lead. First, though, can you briefly explain what oncology is? Some of our listeners may actually not know.
Rachel Webster: Yes, well, oncology is the branch of medicine that specializes in the study, the diagnosis and the treatment of cancer. It’s a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancer cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue and organs. There are actually more than 200 types of cancer classified according to where they start in the body, such as breast cancer or lung cancer.
We also classify cancer according to the type of cell that they start in – the carcinomas, sarcomas, leukaemias and lymphomas, etc..
Neville Hobson: Okay. That’s very helpful to have that. I had no idea actually, the extent of it as you described it. So thank you for that. So I know you’re focused on delivering data driven insights on how diseases are treated. You have expertise in market forecasting as well. Tell us about your current role.
Rachel Webster: I lead the oncology group. It’s the largest of several specialist therapy areas at Clarivate. We belong to the Healthcare Research and Data Solutions Group within Life Science and Healthcare segment. We are a global team of dedicated subject matter experts with a passion for oncology research. We’re focused on producing rich and detailed drug and market specific insights. The team that I oversee are focused on gathering data and insights through physician surveys and interviews on how cancers are treated with drugs.
We what do is critically assess therapies that are under clinical development. We make informed decisions about whether we forecast these drugs to be successful in gaining regulatory approval. If so, the timing of their market entry, the uptake and how they will compete with other therapies.
Plus, we have to think that many drugs in oncology receive accelerated approval based on early phase studies, and that’s not uncommon in oncology. So it’s again, something we have to be aware of. And really, I guess what I’m trying to say is there is a lot of considerations we have to take into account.
Neville Hobson: I could see that, I got that very clearly from what you were saying. It is pretty complex. So how does your work help customers in that case?
Rachel Webster: Because it is complex and dynamic, I think the role that we have to play to support customers is quite unique. The pace of developments is really quite rapid and nothing stands still in oncology. Our customers are mainly biotech and pharma companies, and our team of experts produces insights that provide our customers with the “so what”, the “why” and the “what now”.
Our flagship product is the Disease Landscape and Forecast or DL&F for short, which provides customers with a complete understanding of the marketplace of a particular disease. This enables clients to be able to size the market and the commercial opportunity and understand the competitive landscape and how it will change over a ten-year forecast period. Clients come to us to understand the complexity of the marketplace and we help them navigate the impacts of clinical, commercial and regulatory activity and of course, stay abreast of all these developments that are happening.
And I would also say as well, our data is the benchmark for clients forecasting needs. Our subject matter experts and expertise and our technical capabilities makes us the strategic partner of choice. We have had clients who’ve come to us to understand the addressable markets of a very specific patient group that requires nuanced understanding of how the disease is treated and modelled, and they want to understand the current and future treatment landscape of their key assets so that they can plan their pipeline and understand market potential.
And for some clients we’ve helped, actually, oncology is not their key area. However, the oncology space is what they want to drive their future growth from. So having dedicated support from our experts has been really invaluable to them.
Neville Hobson: And that’s really quite interesting. I’m really intrigued at the scope and scale of what you and your team do from what you just said, Rachel, and the depth of your own experience. So what inspired you to study science and pursue a career in science? How did you get started?
Rachel Webster: I think I was always going to study and carve out a career in something scientific. And my love of the natural world and life sciences is initially what drove me to study biological science at Oxford University. I was actually born and grew up in a very rural farming community in the Derbyshire Peak District, in a family with a very strong work ethic, a mindset for finding solutions to everyday practical problems, because that’s what you have to do on a farm.
I went on to do a master’s and through that a Ph.D. in Molecular biology at Oxford, and I had two supervisors, one in the University and another who was a founder of a biotech spin out company. He was a true inspiration with boundless energy and entrepreneurial spirit. And I think I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance he gave me and the opportunities he provided to me.
I went on to work in bench research for a company called Immunocore. This was really my first exposure to oncology, and they’ve grown enormously over the last decade and they saw their first cancer therapeutic receive FDA approval earlier last year. And I feel quite privileged to have worked for Immunocore, you know, looking back. However, I knew that bench research was not for me in the longer term.
I wanted to see the bigger picture apply my scientific skills in a more commercial way and not just be focused on a single gene or a molecular pathway in the laboratory. So I joined DRG, now Clarivate, as an analyst in the oncology team, and over the years I progressed developing my oncology expertise before becoming a manager and eventually the team lead five years ago. And I’ve seen this team treble in size and spread across the globe, which I think is truly amazing.
It’s been more than sixteen years now that I’ve been completely immersed in oncology in some form or another, either as a researcher in the lab, as an analyst, as a manager, and also as a patient. It was just over eight years ago now that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and this was while I was working as an oncology analyst.
At the time it really knocked me sideways to be diagnosed at a young age, 34, with no family history. It’s just not something you expect. I was treated successfully and all has been really well since, but at the time I did doubt whether I had the courage to continue working in oncology because it was so raw. But I did. And now I have a greater appreciation of the work we do.
The direct value that we bring to oncology drug developers in helping them make important decisions. Because ultimately this filters down to patients. And having been on the other side, it gives me an added perspective of what we do. I think as a team of analysts, we pore over clinical data and statistics, and I think it’s all too easy to glaze over and forget that real patients are behind those numbers. And so I’m grateful for what I have and the work I do, and I consider myself very fortunate to work with talented and like minded individuals who have a passion for oncology.
Neville Hobson: Now, that’s really something. Thank you so much for sharing that personal insight, Rachel. I think it really does shine a bright light on research into finding solutions to diseases like cancer and the scope and sheer depth and breadth of the conditions, as you explained at the very start, is truly staggering. So how does your scientific background actually help you in your career today?
I mean, you’ve talked at length about your background, but I’ve just kind of want to pinpoint that a bit specifically. How is it helping in your career?
Rachel Webster: I think it helps in many ways. Our job is to provide clients with insights, views and opinions powered by data backed up by robust assumptions. And science teaches you how to be analytical, how to assimilate complex information, critique it and translate it into actionable recommendations. That’s what we do for customers at Clarivate.
Science equips you with good decision making and judgment skills. I think all bench researchers have been in the situation, I certainly have, where, we’ve run endless experiments and a point comes where you have to decide to change course, pull the plug, start afresh. And this is decision making in action based on data, evidence and good reasoning. So that’s important. Science as well provides many transferable soft skills, not least the ability to communicate complex ideas to different audiences through a variety of channels. I think also, at least for me personally, academic science has instilled qualities such as tenacity and resilience.
Neville Hobson: Got it. That doesn’t surprise me to hear you say any of those things. I think it is really interesting. You nailed a procedure there, it seems to me, that is at the heart of being involved in science, which stands you in good stead for the work that you do now. Now, changing tack slightly, we hear a lot about diversity and equality in workplaces. Many organizations are making great strides in these areas. I see Clarivate, for instance, as a leading example of this, but I think most people agree that there’s still a lot of work to do in many more organizations. So the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate is currently working on analysis of scientific publications that shows there are continued inequalities.
The study notes that the fact that women are underrepresented in STEM fields is widely known and can be seen across countries and regions. So, knowing that there is no singular experience for all women, or all women in STEM, what do you think it means or what does it mean to you to be a woman in science today and have a STEM job?
Rachel Webster: It’s a great question. I think for me, it means more to be a mother in a STEM job, than it does a woman. I have a two nearly three-year-old and a four-and-a-half-year-old. And it is tough at times to find the work life balance and have a fulfilling career. But up to now, Clarivate has allowed me to do that. The pandemic has brought about change in the way that we work, and Clarivate has embraced flexible, connected workplace model of working and putting people first. I think if we are to retain talented women in the workplace and mothers, continued flexible working is critical in my view. There are still barriers to mothers in STEM jobs in the workplace in general.
I think it’s important to raise awareness of this ensuring equity and inclusion. We should empower women and mothers, not discourage because they are equally brilliant. There’s still not enough women and mothers in executive leadership positions because of work-life challenges. Women and mothers can bring amazing innovation, new perspectives, diversity in the workplace, and ultimately for a company, the power is in its people. It is the people that make a company great.
Neville Hobson: Yes, I agree with you there that you’re quite passionate about this. I can tell that. And indeed, your experience surely points us in that direction for what you just said. I’m interested in your what you think, Rachel – what type of opportunities are there for women, or perhaps anyone actually, who has a university education in science but doesn’t see themselves working in a lab or university? What do you think about that?
Rachel Webster: I think there are a lot of rewarding careers outside of academic research that use a scientific background. But I think for most science graduates, they are either unaware or have misconceptions about such roles. Not all scientists wear white coats, wear glasses and work in a lab. Opportunities exist across the public, private and voluntary sectors from business, health and communications to market research, policy and teaching.
My role in healthcare research and data analysis is a good example of an alternative science-based career. It’s a role that I only discovered through knowing somebody working at DRG. I don’t think I would have ever thought to search for such a job or discover it in any other way, which is why outreach from individuals in STEM jobs to the next generation, I believe, is so important.
Most of my team stepped into analyst positions after completing higher degrees in bench research as well as I. I think there’s a whole array of roles ranging from market research and consulting to science or medical communication, publishing, technical writing, policy, specialisms within IP and patents, roles in manufacturing. The list is really endless, and there’s huge diversity in roles when you scratch the surface.
Neville Hobson: That’s really, really fascinating. So what message or advice would you give to women and mothers embarking on a career in science or STEM?
Rachel Webster: This may not be directly applicable to women and mothers, but in general, I would say, usually what you enjoy doing is what you will excel at. If you are interested in science or STEM, I would say – know that there are fulfilling opportunities out there in the workplace. You don’t have to be chained to the bench in a lab coat to use science as a job.
I would say always keep an open mind in whatever role that you’re in. Try and make connections with people, whether through acquaintances within or outside of your organization. Network and take the time to participate in activities outside of your immediate day job. This might be something as simple as listening to a panel discussion or other information session hosted by another group at your company, and who knows where that might lead in the future.
Everything is always what you make of it. That’s what I always think, and usually what you put in correlates with what you get out. Surround yourself by smart people and that’s not hard at Clarivate. And finally, one piece of advice I would always say to anybody is don’t compare yourself against others or try to be better than somebody else. What’s most important is about giving the best of yourself.
Neville Hobson: That’s a good a good piece of advice, I think. So let’s shift focus again a bit on trends and innovation – two significant words in this field. And I’m keen to know what you think are what are some of those key innovation trends in oncology right now?
Rachel Webster: Yes, absolutely. Oncology really is the leading therapy area for innovation. Or maybe I’m biased (laughs). The volume of clinical trial activity, the size of the pipeline, number of companies investing in oncology, the number of novel therapies launching each year and countless label expansions all point to an unrelenting pace of development in oncology. But this is not something that’s new. Oncology has grown faster than any other therapy area over decades. In 2021, the global oncology market accounted for almost 200 billion sales. That’s approximately 20% of global pharmaceutical sales. A continuing trend is the dominance of immuno-oncology. In the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of immune checkpoint inhibitors. PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors in particular have dominated and are now embedded in treatment pathways for so many oncology indications.
We’re also in an era of combination treatments. This is where two or more drug therapies are combined, the idea being that two or more drugs work together synergistically are more efficacious than one drug alone. Combination approaches are really common in oncology and necessary not only to make therapies more effective, but in some cases reduce side effects and also tackle drug resistance.
Cancer is clever, you see, it learns how to evade treatment and escape, and there’s a limit to what one drug on its own can do. Other innovative trends include the emergence of more sophisticated development of personalized therapies. CAR T-cell therapies are truly personalized because they are unique to individual patients. That’s not to be confused with precision medicine. That’s different. This is the development of drugs targeted to specific molecular markers found on the surface of tumor cells. 2023 is a special year. Actually, it’s the 25th anniversary of the approval of Herceptin, a HER2 targeted drug for HER2-positive breast cancer, the first monoclonal antibody against an oncogene. And there’s been tremendous shift towards targeted drugs since then, and the list of targets are continually growing.
You can get a sense of this from Clarivate’s Drugs to Watch article which was released last month, and most of the drugs that we profile in the article are drugs that are targeted to a particular molecular marker.
Neville Hobson: Okay, that’s really interesting. We’ll have a link to that drugs to watch article in the show notes for this particular episode. You mentioned 2023. So that’s a good kick-off point for a final question, Rachel, which is, what’s the future going to look like? I think you’ve set a scene there, indeed a high expectation perhaps, on the direction of oncology drug development. And I’m keen to know your thoughts on how things might change over the next 5 to 10 years. So we’re talking about the period of roughly both sides of 2030. What do you think?
Rachel Webster: Well, I guess the short answer is, I think a continuation of the same trends. The emergence of novel drugs targeted to new molecular markers shows no sign of slowing down based on the previous ten years. And the oncology market will grow faster than other therapy areas as we’ve seen previously. And we forecast that the oncology market will hit 300 billion in the next five years.
Many oncology landscapes are unrecognizable now to how they were ten years ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are unrecognizable again in ten years time. The conveyor belt of novel therapeutics coming through the pipeline will surely continue. I think more immune checkpoint inhibitors, but with more diverse targets. Their use currently is broadly confined to patients with high tumor mutational burden or high PD-L1 expression levels.
But their use is being investigated and expanded to patients with low tumor mutational burden. And researchers are looking at ways to predict response to these drugs. CAR T-cell therapies, which I mentioned before until now, have been confined to patients with B-cell haematological malignancies.
Current trends in development include improving the safety profile of those therapies through gene editing, engineering safety switches, identifying predictive markers and exploring the use in solid tumors. I expect, and I hope, that we’ll see considerable advances in that field. I think as well we’ll see many more antibody drug conjugate and bispecific drugs reach the market. Perhaps also some tri-specific drugs that reach the market too. But one thing I do think is, for sure, is that new targeted therapies are going to drive increased fragmentation and even narrower patient populations.
I expect that drug treatments will become even more precisely targeted and increasingly more personalized and unique to the patient. But I do want to make the point that I expect conventional methods such as chemotherapy and radiation will still hold their ground. They are still effective means of care and often combined with novel drugs, can be very effective. But I think all the time through advances in diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients, we are seeing more prolonged survival rates.
Improved survival is great, of course, but it only reflects true progress when accompanied by a decreased burden of disease. And by that, I mean fewer patients being diagnosed with cancer, incidence, or fewer people dying with cancer, mortality. An example of true progress in what we’ve seen is, is in colorectal cancer over the last decade or more, we’ve seen the five-year survival rate really increase, while burden has fallen owing to earlier detection and screening and more effective treatments.
And hopefully with the pace of innovation that we’re seeing, we’re going to see similar progress for other cancers in the coming years, we hope.
Neville Hobson: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today. And I want to thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge and insights about women in science, STEM career opportunities, oncology trends, innovation, and what the future might look like. Thank you very much.
Rachel Webster: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Neville Hobson: For detailed information about Life Sciences and Healthcare, visit clarivate.com and search Life Sciences. Season 2 of Ideas to Innovation continues with our next episode in a few weeks time. Visit clarivate.com/podcasts for information. Thanks for listening.
Outro: Ideas to innovation from Clarivate.