Heptares Founder Shares Her Best Life Sciences Career Advice
Fiona Marshall founded Heptares Therapeutics, which is now one of the leading biotech companies in the UK. It was acquired in 2016 by Japan’s Sosei Group for $400 million. Her rise to founder of a top biotech company gives her a unique perspective to offer career advice.
Marshall has stayed on as chief scientific officer of Heptares and Sosei.
She built her career foundation an all-girls school in Bournemouth, Talbot Heath, “where we were taught that girls could do anything. It never occurred to me that being female would hold me back and in fact it never has. The school motto is ‘Honor Before Honors,’ which means that personal integrity, honesty and character are more important than recognition and prizes. I have tried to apply this ethos to my working life.”
Marshall eventually earned a degree in biochemistry at the University of Bath and then received her PhD in neuroscience at Cambridge.
Her first job was in the neuroscience department at Glaxo, before it became GlaxoSmithKline. She then moved to a biotech company in the U.S., Millennium Pharmaceuticals. She then spent about five years as a consultant, working with venture capital firms and small startups before she launched Heptares.
Marshall presents tips for women (and men) on how to succeed in their life science careers. She notes that she’s been fortunate in all her jobs, that each helped her in her role at Heptares.
“My advice to everyone is to choose an area of science or medicine that you are passionate about and throw yourself completely into it,” Marshall says.
Although she doesn’t use that word, she recommends connecting with as many people as you can in your area of interest.
Marshall says, “Never stop reading and studying—everyday there are new developments happening.”
“Go out of your way to be helpful to others — you will get this back in return,” Marshall says. “The junior lab assistant you helped out one day may turn out to be the head of a major company in the future.”
Persist and Don’t Blame
“Most importantly, don’t blame yourself or others when things don’t work out as planned—you did your best and in the field of drug discovery and development only a few of the good ideas actually make it through,” Marshall notes.
Not everything is in your control, and Marshall suggests you stop worrying because many of the things you’re worrying about may not even happen. “Do everything you can to succeed in the things that are in your control. However, things do not always work out as planned and this is particularly true in research and drug discovery — it is part of what makes the job exciting and interesting, but it can also be stressful if you worry about every unexpected result or failure.”
When asked what she thinks is the biggest issue for women in the workplace, Marshall says, “For many women it is lack of self-confidence. I meet so many super bright young women who don’t realize their own talents and capabilities. Women don’t put themselves forward enough, they don’t always take on the most challenging projects and they often don’t ask for the pay-rise they deserve.”
When asked about her success at Heptares, Marshall says, “Aside from the cool science we have at Heptares, there are two key highlights which I believe have contributed to the success of the company. The first is the exceptional team of people we have been fortunate enough to bring together — a multi-national and multi-disciplinary team mixing youthful enthusiasm with years of experience. We have the same team of people leading the company now as we did when we started. The second highlight is seeing almost all the projects we started over the years finding strong pharma partners to take them forward to the next stage of development in treating patients.”
Heptares currently has a position open for its location in Zurich, Switzerland for a Senior Protein Biochemist. The job calls for a PhD in biochemistry or related discipline, experience in molecular biology, membrane protein expression methods, membrane protein purification, and cloning of plasmid constructs for expression of crystallization constructs.