Clinical Projects Manager - MRC CTU at UCL
When did you first become interested in science?
I think probably at secondary school, doing chemistry, physics and biology (particularly the biology). I had a really good, inspiring teacher, so I think that helped and then I just followed that through to degree level.
And what did you study?
I did Biochemistry for my undergrad (at Canterbury) and a PhD in cell-signalling in cancer research at Sheffield University, the Medical School. I then did a postdoc at UCL, at the Institute of Ophthalmology.
And how did your career develop after that?
After UCL, I got my job here (the MRC CTU at UCL was then part of the MRC). That was 14 years ago.
I started as a Trial Manager, and now I’ve been a Clinical Projects Manager (CPM) for 8 years. I worked across gynaecological oncology trials to begin with and I’m now a CPM on prostate cancer trials. I have also worked on trials in a range of cancer types and a trial in sickle cell anaemia.
How has your career developed since being here?
It was nice coming out of the lab. I felt it was more clinically relevant: I could see how it related to patients, whereas in the lab you’re very focussed on a specific area. I think the work I do is a lot more accessible now, and I can see how it has influences in the NHS and on guidelines, which is really, really rewarding.
And what do you do day-to-day in your role?
I’m a Clinical Project Manager, so I manage two prostate cancer trials at the moment.
One is called RADICALS, which is a more traditional trial with one Trial Manager and one Data Manager. I manage the staff on the trial, the resources and just make sure from an operational point of view that we’re meeting all our milestones and legal requirements. I also make sure that the trial is run according to the regulations.
I also project manage STAMPEDE, which is a multi-arm, multi-stage (MAMS) design (read more on MAMS here). STAMPEDE has been adding and dropping arms for the last few years, so that’s really challenging but very exciting as well. My role on STAMPEDE is to manage the operations team, which is much bigger than for other trials: we have 3 trial managers, 4 data managers and a couple of trial assistants. I also oversee the needs of the trial, liaising with drug companies and external groups and again, make sure we are following appropriate processes and meeting our milestones and legal and regulatory requirements. STAMPEDE is a much more flexible trial model that we work with here at MRC CTU at UCL, which is exciting and challenging.
I’ve just been to the ASCO conference, which was great, to actually see the preliminary results from STAMPEDE presented. It’s really fantastic to think that in a couple of years’ time STAMPEDE will have more results, because of the trial design. It’s very different from a traditional trial where you publish your results and then design the next trial. With a MAMS trial you’re actually getting results for further comparisons using different drugs or radiotherapy within the same trial.
Now I’m a Project Manager I tend to spend my time more on the day-to-day management but I still get exposure to the papers that are coming out and the other trial data that is emerging in the research area. The science is at the basis of everything. I really enjoy working as part of a team, both the MRC CTU at UCL team and the external collaborators at different hospitals in the UK and overseas.
Could you talk a bit more about the science behind one of your trials?
There are increasing numbers of treatments available for advanced prostate cancer. These treatments are usually used in prostate cancer when hormone treatment is no longer effective and the cancer has started to grow again. The aim of this trial, which is called STAMPEDE, is to assess some of these treatments, given earlier in the course of the disease in combination with hormone treatment. The treatments evaluated include agents involved in treatment with high-energy x-rays targeted to the prostate gland, an inhibitor of steroid hormone synthesis and a blocker of androgen receptors.
So we’ve got quite a range of different strategies for treating prostate cancer and we’re able to evaluate them all within one trial. The translational sub studies will be important for the trial too so that biological markers can be found to determine more personalised medicine for patients in the future. This has been a strategy used in other areas in cancer.
Have you experienced barriers in your career, or have there been any times when you have needed extra support?
I’ve been on maternity leave twice since I’ve been working here. That’s been a really amazing experience, as I’ve been able to take time out and look after my children and then come back to a similar role. I now work part-time and am able to make use of the flexible working to balance my work and home life.
And any plans for your future career?
I think STAMPEDE is a job for life! It’s always evolving and there are always new challenges.
But also I’d like to get involved with some of the stratified medicine trials coming up, because that would combine my trial management experience with my scientific background in cell signalling. There’s a little more to think about when using agents that are specifically targeted to different genetic mutations in patients. That would be quite a nice full circle: to see some of the pathways I worked on for my PhD being targeted within a trial that I work on.