Dr Kate Samardzic can’t wait for the day that a drug she has helped develop reaches patients. Guided by her drive to help others, her impressive research pathway to date has opened up to even more possibilities thanks to taking part in the Bridge Program.
Realising the potential of commercialisation
As a teenager Kate volunteered with St John Ambulance, helping with first aid at public events. When it came time to choosing a university course, she wanted to become a doctor. But the end of her medical science degree at University of Technology Sydney marked a fork in the road for deciding how she would help others next.
“It dawned on me that a career in research had the potential to lead to a discovery that could benefit more patients than a doctor could see in a lifetime, and this realisation prompted my shift into a research career,” she said.
“I’d always been interested in the brain and neurological diseases and a project studying environmental triggers of neurodegenerative disease caught my attention. After completing my Honours degree, this project became the focus on my PhD.”
Mid-PhD, Kate took part in an entrepreneurship and bioinnovation program at the University of Tokyo run by SPARK (Stanford’s translational research program) which piqued her interest in drug development and research commercialisation.
“It became clear that I wanted to focus on a career translating research from the bench to the bedside to have a more direct impact on patients’ lives,” she said.
Comprehensive course content informed by industry
When Kate was offered a place in the Bridge Program she accepted, keen to learn more.
She describes the Bridge Program as the ultimate crash course in the process of drug development and research commercialisation.
“Over the years I’ve sought out many resources on the topic and nothing has compared to the Bridge Program. The content is concise, yet comprehensive, and well-informed by industry.”
“As well as the online modules, the Bridge Program assembles an excellent panel of guest speakers from pharmaceutical consortium partners, Medicines Australia, and venture capital firms among others, at events held throughout the year. Each speaker shares a wealth of knowledge and offers unique perspectives on their various experiences in the pharmaceutical industry.”
A winning pitch
Kate was also selected as a winner of the 2019 Bridge Program pitch competition, where participants present a two-minute pitch for a real or fictional technology that has commercial opportunity. Kate’s winning pitch was for a fictional Alzheimer’s Disease drug that targets mitochondria, inspired by her PhD research.
The competition offers real-world experience working in a team to develop and present a pitch to a panel of industry experts. “The opportunity to practice pitching to pharmaceutical executives and venture capitalists in such a supportive learning environment is unparalleled,” Kate said.
The prize is a $10,000 travel scholarship to tour US pharmaceutical companies and program consortium partners, including visits to the headquarters of AbbVie, Amgen, Merck and Novartis.
For Kate, this was a trip of a lifetime. She had been interested in working with pharmaceutical companies but didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the breadth of roles available.
“At each company, myself and the other pitch winners met with representatives from all levels of the organisation. This opportunity was probably the most valuable for me – hearing about the different career paths and roles of everyone we met in such an open and friendly environment.”
“I also had so much fun with the other pitch winners and made friends for life, our group chat is still active!” she said.
Beyond the Bridge Program
Towards the end of the program, Kate joined Bio-Link in a business development role. She said completing the Bridge Program was instrumental in providing a solid foundation for success in the role, quite literally helping her to ‘bridge’ the gap between PhD researcher to professional in the biotechnology sector.
Kate has since moved to the United States to take up a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University in the lab of Professor Daria Mochly-Rosen. Incidentally, it was after Professor Mochly-Rosen watched Kate’s winning pitch video that they discovered their shared research interests. They are now working on a small molecule enzyme activator for the most common enzyme deficiency in the world: glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.
At the same time Kate continues to develop her research commercialisation and business development knowledge, recently completing a program at the Stanford Graduate Business School. Like the Bridge Program, the course culminated in a team pitch exercise.
“I reached out to someone I met on the US trip for advice on my team’s business plan and received so many useful insights related to our industry. This wouldn’t have been possible without the Bridge Program.
“Everyone is so enthusiastic about helping the Bridge Program participants navigate the path to commercialising research, and I’m sure the tour experience will lead to more opportunities while I’m here in the US.”