Education within the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) fields has driven the scientific advancements and technological innovations that have fundamentally changed the world. From cleaner energy production, to global communication, to life-saving medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, the benefits to the world are ubiquitous. Investing in STEM has increased in importance for driving innovation and productivity to further improve the quality of life.
This International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the female leaders in STEM roles who have contributed heavily to the aforementioned advances, leaders like Dr. Gertrude Elion who helped revolutionize the drug discovery process. Dr. Elion’s passion for medicine began at a young age after losing her Grandfather to cancer. Establishing herself as a bright and resourceful scientist, Dr. Elion became a pioneer of innovation in the fields of medicine and pharmaceuticals. She was recognized for her impact in 1988 with a Nobel Prize in Medicine shared with Dr. George Hitchings and Sir James W. Black.
Dr. Elion abandoned the contemporary trial-and-error approach to drug discovery, and developed a methodological way of designing drugs. Dr. Elion focused on understanding the molecular basis and biochemistry of diseases and synthesized drugs to specifically target the underlying mechanisms causing diseases. Dr. Elion, alongside fellow Nobel Laurate Dr. George Hitchings, developed a host of potential therapeutic agents for treating a range of diseases, including the small molecule drug 6-mercaptopurine (Figure 1) for the treatment of leukemia. Dr. Elion’s advancements to the practice of drug discovery accelerated the development of many life-saving medicines, and she, along with other scientists like her, paved the way for many women in STEM professions.
Figure 1. 6-mercaptopurine was one of the earliest rationalized drug molecules. Because of its very similar chemical structure to the molecules that make up DNA, it effectively clogs up the machinery responsible for synthesizing DNA.
Cyclica is fortunate to have female scientists guiding the company’s technological and business strategies. Dr. Shoshana Wodak, a world-leader in bioinformatics and computational biology, is an integral member of Cyclica’s scientific advisory board. Helping guide Cyclica’s executive team is Dr. Nancy Levy, an expert in strategic business development who has helped many young companies efficiently expand their business. Dr. Levy was a featured entrepreneur in the Wall Street Journal article, "Closing the Gender Gap", and is a big advocate for the promotion of women scientists to leadership roles.
More women earn college and university degrees than men and the number of women obtaining STEM degrees and pursuing a career in science is growing. However, the gender gap in STEM careers remains open. Luckily, there are initiatives like Stanford’s “Gendered Innovation” that are actively promoting the female representation in STEM. In fact, the initiative goes beyond the promotion of female personnel, but also includes representation of female biology in critical studies, such as the experiments used to evaluate drug/product safety. The ultimate goal would be equal representation for the physiology of both sexes when evaluating product effectiveness and safety.
Cyclica endorses a world where innovation is inspired through collaboration with diverse individuals in an environment celebrating each other's differences. It is important this International Women’s Day to recognize the impact female scientists have had on making this world a better place. Cyclica is incredibly grateful to those female scientists that came before us and laid the foundation for our technology, and we are keenly aware of the essential role that our women advisers and employees play in our success – Thank you.
This blog was written in part by Kasia Drozd, a former graduate student at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, who now works in the biotech sector.