Alumni profile - Dr Hannah Thompson
Being named on BioBeat’s annual 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness report, a report which highlights the trailblazers and trendsetters shaping the future of the UK life sciences sector, was such a lovely achievement which recognised my role in working with patients and oncologists to help develop CCG.ai’s artificial intelligence platform for treatment monitoring of cancer... As for my future career, I look forward to a wide range of opportunities with the healthcare, environment and people sectors, helping to grow businesses and make a difference to the world.
Why did you choose to study Tumour Biology at Queen Mary (Barts and The London)? When I was looking for PhDs I knew I wanted to study something that affected lots of people, with the opportunity to work in an institute with multiple opportunities. Queen Mary allowed me to work in a lab with human samples, interact with clinicians, and practice my public speaking and entrepreneurial skills. My PhD was specifically on the link between type 2 diabetes and large bowel cancer at The Blizard Institute with Prof Andrew Silver and Dr Cleo Bishop.
How did it feel to be the first full-time employee at Cambridge Cancer Genomics? What was your role within the company? It was a special feeling - being the first employee was a really good opportunity to learn and develop myself. I started initially as Chief of Staff, but had a lot of different roles: I built most of CCG.ai’s processes from scratch by learning from books, speaking to experienced people in my network or building new networks when needed. I assisted with the seed fundraising, working with the founders to find resources for projects, identified and built relationships with collaborators, assisted with grant writing, built the hiring and HR process, set up office space, and liaised with accountants and lawyers.
This role transformed into Chief People and Product Officer. I led the product team which included understanding customer needs by speaking to oncologists as often as possible, prioritising tasks, user stories, owning the product roadmap, usability testing and interacting with the development team efficiently on a daily basis. We used agile methodology for product development. I also assisted the team with CE marking of the product.
Other things my job involved: I found and on-boarded the first customer, I spoke at patient advocacy groups to gain feedback from patients, I interacted with the business development team to understand the current competitive landscape and any potential obstacles and regulations. I led and developed the hiring process, performance management of colleagues and maintained our culture of feedback and trust. This included line managing a colleague to assist with the efficiency of this process and to gather feedback. I also worked with the operations team to ensure smooth running of the company and accounts. Additionally, I am a mental health first aider and used this training to support all colleagues.
Huge congratulations on also being named on BioBeat’s annual 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness report, a report which highlights the trailblazers and trendsetters shaping the future of the UK life sciences sector. Can you elaborate on some of the work and research you have undertaken that has led to this recognition? Thank you! It’s a lovely achievement that recognised my role in working with patients and oncologists to help develop CCG.ai’s artificial intelligence platform for treatment monitoring of cancer.
I helped secure CCG.ai as the first industry recipients of data from Genomics England’s (GeL) 100,000 Genomes Project, in a collaborative partnership. Building on GeL’s data and CCG.ai’s expertise in AI-driven cancer diagnostics, the partnership aims to build a sequencing panel to reduce the cost of assessing the effectiveness of immunotherapies and, when twinned with CCG.ai’s ‘liquid biopsy’ technology, use AI to accurately analyse tumour DNA in a blood sample. This panel could also allow tumour mutational burden to be calculated from a patient's blood, and serial samples could tell an oncologist when a tumour is becoming resistant to immunotherapy: it is hoped that stratification of responders and non-responders will reduce the effective cost of immunotherapies and may increase access to this new drug class in the NHS.
During your time at Queen Mary I understand that you reached the final of the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme. Can you describe what this scheme is for anyone who isn’t aware and what your participation in the scheme looked like? Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is an innovative global competition, organised by the University of Nottingham, developed to raise awareness among postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers of how ideas from science and engineering can be commercialised.
I worked with a team of 4 other Queen Mary PhD students to develop a business plan for a hypothetical wound healing gel company called Gexoderm, in the Biotechnology YES stream, which included an intense workshop. We met lots of enthusiastic teams from all over the UK, as well as valuable advisors who I am still in contact with today. We made it all the way to the finals and learnt so much. It was a great honour to go back to the finals in 2019 to judge and give out the Biotechnology YES winners award.
I understand that you returned to Queen Mary last November to speak at the FIRED UP event. What was this event about and what did you gain from speaking at this event? The aims of the FIRED UP event were to encourage networking between academia and industry and highlight areas where they can work together. It was great to speak about Cambridge Cancer Genomics, and to highlight the opportunities to get involved in startups for the students. It was also great and inspiring to hear all of the research coming out of Queen Mary that has the possibility to change the world!
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary (Barts and The London)? I was attracted to Queen Mary because of its London location: the Whitechapel campus I was based at was linked with The Royal London Hospital, which was great, as it gave me access to real patients to study. As my time at Queen Mary went on I appreciated their public engagement work, which allowed me to get involved in speaking to the public about my PhD.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? Gaining a PhD has been instrumental in my career. Alongside that, the network I have developed at Queen Mary has led to me improving my science communication skills, and also given me opportunities like developing a sequencing lab in Bangladesh. Without doing Biotech YES, I don’t think I would be where I am today, so I am glad Queen Mary offers such opportunities to students.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Get out and network, this will help you to create opportunities within various communities of people and build up a diverse skill set to test out potential career paths.
Why is it exciting to do what you do? I get to work with a talented team every day, working to change the world!
What does the future look like for you in terms of projects and research? Personally, I hope to get more involved in projects which help to improve emotional intelligence in children of all ages. I am currently involved with https://empathy-week.com. As for my career, I look forward to a wide range of opportunities with the healthcare, environment and people sectors, helping to grow businesses and make a difference to the world.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? It has to be the people that I met - science friends for life.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? I am inspired by people like Daisy Robinton because of the multiple complementary ways she has developed her portfolio career.