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Empowering women in cell and gene therapy: BioTalent hosts the CGT Circle

BioTalent hosted the latest CGT Circle event at The IN Group’s London office on Thursday 6th June. Host Christina Giakou and our panel of life sciences leaders made up of Charlotte Smerdon (Purespring Therapeutics), Jacqueline Abbas (BioSolutions), Ming Ewe (Smart Biotech Solutions) and Jyothi Kumaran (Laverock Therapeutics) discussed promoting career resilience among women, attracting investment to startup companies, factors to consider when joining startups and advice for coping with redundancy. Here are the key takeaways.

How to promote resilience for women facing career challenges

In a demanding and often uncertain biotech industry, there was a consensus among the panellists that women often feel they face a trade-off between doing a good job at home and doing a good job at work. In reality, they can be good at both by building their resilience.

It sounds like a contradiction, but vulnerability’s an important tool in growing resilience. Don’t be afraid of showing weakness. If you get stuck, be open to asking for help from mentors, coaches or colleagues you really click with. When you need to vent, are lacking confidence or maybe questioning your career, it helps to have a peer with whom you can discuss your challenges, whether they’re personal or professional. Find someone you trust either inside or outside the company for mutual, honest support.

Having a supportive boss and a team who back you up are a big part of that. With workplaces now so much more flexible and understanding, this is hopefully turning into the norm for women in biotech. When you’re struggling to bond with anyone around you, that’s where the power of your network really comes to the fore. Make sure you connect with professional groups, take every opportunity to grow your network and speak to like-minded people so you know you’re not alone.

How to attract investment

The panel shared some useful strategies for startup companies in the life sciences sector looking to attract early-stage investment.


Ensure the long-term vision is clear for investors, covering all your key milestones, budgets and inflexion points. This will give everyone confidence in your mission. Venture capitalists (VCs) will then get more involved in decision-making and hopefully be more willing to loosen the purse strings, as they’re much more informed.


You need to build up a data package to give investors confidence in your manufacturing process and chances of success. When you’re presenting your data, plans and strategy to investors, make sure you’ve considered the risks and mitigations. If you don’t disclose the risks, investors will assume you haven’t thought about them.

Don’t ask for too little funding or you’ll risk running out before you have the chance to get the data. When asking for funding, you’ll need at least 12 months before your funding runs out or you’ll be in a weak negotiating position.



There was a feeling that in the startup environment, regulation’s often brought into the process too late. You need to work collectively across the company to deliver the right information to the regulators, in turn giving investors confidence in the regulatory input.


What to consider when joining a startup

When presented with the opportunity to join a startup, what do you need to think about? What questions should you ask to make sure you make the right decision?

Do your due diligence by looking at the company page on LinkedIn, press coverage and information from Companies House. See how many people they’ve got in the team, what departments they have, how far they’ve progressed in clinical trials. If they’re very preclinical, their funding might be pushed back if VCs feel the clinical data isn’t strong enough.

Understanding the company’s funding will give you an idea of the security and longevity of the role. Look at what funding they’ve received, whether it’s seed, series A or B, or venture capital. If they have only VC funding, how risky would it be to join them? Is there a chance they’ve spent all their funding on manufacturing? Diversified funding – there might be a number of VCs investing in the company, or partnerships with other biotech companies – could be a reassuring sign.

Ask about the company’s vision and its plan for the next few years. It could have just received a large amount of funding for its immediate plan, but what’s its long-term strategy? What are its growth plans? If it's planning to double its headcount in the next year, is that kind of growth sustainable or indicative of stability? Similarly, a focus only on the immediate term is a big red flag.

Ask about its culture and values. What’s it like to work for? When it grows, how will it maintain that culture? Does what you see on the company website and social media match up with your impression of the hiring process?

Don’t underestimate the importance of gut feeling when deciding whether to make the move. In the fast-moving startup world, the company could change direction at any moment. Whatever you decide to do, go into it with your eyes open.

What you could gain in a startup

If you can stay long enough, the stock options could be quite lucrative – but you might find yourself doing the same job for a number of years. In biotech, the role is so broad that you can take it wherever you want, whether getting involved in industry initiatives or speaking at events.

What you can learn is often more valuable than the financials. Understand the gaps in your experience and look for ways you can fill them. An internal project could be a good way of increasing your portfolio of skills. Even if the role doesn’t work out in the long term, it could be an opportunity to build your CV.

How does the role fit into the life you want to have outside work and where you want to go in your career? With fewer layers of hierarchy, there’s also an opportunity to get involved in mentoring, which is not only hugely rewarding but gives you the chance to exchange knowledge.


Getting through redundancy

Redundancy is a sad fact of life in any industry, but particularly in life sciences. Remember it’s the role that’s being made redundant, not you. It’s usually a decision based on a business need. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re good at what you do and finding your next opportunity is only a matter of time. You’re not trying to get every job you apply for – you’re trying to get one.

Your network is more important than ever – both in providing support and connecting you to potential opportunities. That’s why you always need to be working on expanding your network, speaking to peers and getting involved in initiatives where you can get to know new people.

Most importantly of all, take care of your mental health. If you’re able to, take the opportunity for some time off. Stay busy, whether it’s immersing yourself in the job hunt, taking up hobbies or going for walks to keep your mind clear. This is a chance to go about your daily life without the pressures of work.


Become a part of the community

The CGT Circle aims to realise and harness the collective power and experience of women in cell and gene therapy through community-led events. Offering support with careers and professional development, it aims to connect women and have conversations about complex topics as they navigate careers and life. Find out more about the CGT Circle here.

If you’re looking for your next role in cell and gene therapy or you’re a pharmaceutical company looking to make your next hire, please contact the BioTalent team.