The future is in our hands: knowledge translation and the importance of mentors

Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical (MTP) sector is acknowledged as a world-leader. We have a vibrant ecosystem of start-ups, and have created highly successful MTP companies such as Cochlear, CSL, Mesoblast, Nanosonics, ResMed, Bionomics and Starpharma.

The medical technology and pharmaceuticals sector generates approximately $4.4 billion to the Australian economy in gross value added, and employs 48,000 people across medtech, pharma, and health and medical research.

We have these great achievements to celebrate, but we also have a major opportunity to increase our rates of research translation, commercialisation, and therefore jobs.

My professional journey has seen me work through varied positions in the sector in changing times. I graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Queensland and then went on to work in hospital pharmacy in pharmacist, speciality and senior executive roles. I then moved to the pharma industry at a time when biotech was just starting in Australia, working initially with Schering Plough (now Merck) and then Amgen. From there I went on to work in medical, marketing and business development roles at BMS and Agenix Ltd.

My journey continued when a mentor from the investment industry supported my appointment into my first public CEO role at EQuiTX Ltd. From there I held a number of CEO and senior executive roles in smaller biotech/pharma companies across Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. I also gained experience as a Board member including both not-for-profit and for profit organisations, and I am currently a non-executive director at RHS Ltd, veski and Oventus Medical Ltd.

Many of my colleagues in the sector boast similar backgrounds. We have worked hard through varying roles, through successes and challenges, through the financial crisis, and have seen the beginning of exciting innovative start-ups that have gone on to have major international success.

In November 2015, the Australian Government acknowledged the MTP sector’s importance to Australia by nominating it as the focus for one of six areas of strategic priority, as part of their $250 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative. Ensuring we seize the opportunities created by our world-leading research into MTP is the principal task of MTPConnect, an independent, not-for-profit, and industry-led information, advocacy and grant funding body, of which I am the CEO and Managing Director.

In this position, with the MTPConnect team, I have been connecting and collaborating with individuals, organisations and companies from across the sector to work together to ensure that we continue to flourish and grow, to be a go-to spot on the international MTP map, drive an estimated additional 28,000 jobs over the years to 2025, and inspire, encourage, support and empower the next generation to carry the torch and make it all happen.

This is why initiatives, such as the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) being delivered through the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, are so incredibly important.

Sue MacLeman, CEO MTPConnect, shares her mentoring journey as part of the IMNIS Program at the Victorian launch of the 2017 IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program [Image: A Bizzarri for IMNIS]
In 2016, IMNIS received funding from the MTPConnect Project Fund Program for a national roll-out the successful PhD initiative. Along with initiatives such as The Bridge Program, IMNIS is providing the structure and platform to ensure that the next generations of STEM superstars can get all the learning and support that they need, download all the knowledge that they can, and understand the exciting and varied pathways ahead of them, from those of us on the other end of our career trajectories.

I am a proud mentor in the IMNIS program, and in 2016 I worked with my mentee Claretta D Souza, a PhD student from the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, as part of the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma Pilot.

Through the mentoring program, Claretta and I were able to discuss her interest in entering industry, and look at the variety of options open to her to help her to build her translatable skills and confidently approach future possibilities with greater understanding of the landscape and prospects ahead. We also worked on practical tasks like developing her CV and networking.

Claretta is now working with me and the team at MTPConnect, has just handed in her thesis, and is evaluating the exciting opportunities ahead of her.

Not only is IMNIS extremely beneficial for the mentees, but it is also exciting and invigorating for the mentors. Working with Claretta kept me in touch with what is happening for students in MTP streams, reminded me what it is to be a fresh, wide-eyed face entering the sector, and how exciting it is. The experience of providing support and encouragement, that can have real positive impact on someone’s future, is wonderfully exciting – let alone thinking about the impact that they will have on the sector in years to come!

So, I encourage all in the sector to get involved with incredible programs such as IMNIS to ensure our ongoing legacy and the continued development and support (in all manner of roles) for the outstanding innovations we are producing that are having impact on the lives of people across the world.

About the author:

Sue MacLeman is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, MTPConnect. She has more than 30 years’ experience as a pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical technology executive with roles in corporate, medical, commercial and business development at Schering-Plough Corporation (now Merck), Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Mesoblast Ltd. Sue has also served as CEO and Board member of several ASX and NASDAQ listed companies in the sector and is currently a non-executive director at RHS Ltd, veski and Oventus Medical Ltd. Sue has been recognised for her leadership with BioMelbourne Network’s 2017 Women in Leadership Award.

About MTPConnect

MTPConnect was formed as a not-for-profit organisation in November 2015 as part of the federal government’s $250 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative to accelerate the rate of growth of the MTP sector to achieve greater commercialisation and establish Australia as an Asia-Pacific hub for MTP companies. The MTPConnect Head Office is located at the New Horizons Building at Monash University, co-located with CSIRO and industry. There are also key hubs at the University of Sydney’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Flinders University (Tonsley site).

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