Dr. Amanda Malone
Dr. Amanda Malone has worked on the development of drug delivery systems for over 12 years. She is the Chief Scientific Officer of Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals, a Victoria based biotech company that develops sustained release drug delivery systems targeting unmet medical needs. Since its inception in 2012, she has guided Eupraxia Pharmaceutical’s scientific programs through the pre-clinical and manufacturing process and into the clinic. The company now has 20 employees and is in the planning stages of a pivotal trial for their lead product, a treatment for arthritis.
Dr. Amanda Malone
CSO, Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals
1. Tell us about yourself
I was born and brought up in California. I was always interested in math and science, even as a child. After high school, I obtained my Bachelor's degree in general engineering from Harvey Mudd College. During this time, I studied how strain on cornea cells produced more physiological correct matrix. Later, I joined the mechanical engineering department at Stanford for my Master’s degree. During my Master’s, Stanford started a new Bioengineering Department. I decided to pursue this program for my PhD, where I worked on mechano-transduction mechanisms in bone cells. After grad school, I joined a start-up biotech company focusing on polymer mediated sustained release drug delivery. Some of the main issues that can be addressed with sustained release drug delivery are reducing drug toxicity and improving patient compliance. In 2010, I moved to Vancouver, and in 2012 I joined Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals as the Chief Scientific Officer.
2. What inspired you to pursue a career in industry rather than taking the academia route? What advice would you give to students interested in making this transition?
During my PhD, I realised that I didn’t enjoy working in the lab. The job market for academic positions in biomedical engineering was not very good back then. I wasn’t excited about writing grants to get money to do research. I was looking for more application-oriented work, but I found that my research was very fundamental. All of these factors drove me towards a career in industry. When I joined Eupraxia, I was in charge of many different aspects: developing protocols, designing experiments, and managing animal and clinical studies at partner organizations. I was doing all of these things because the company was so small. When the company started to grow, I began managing teams of scientists. My current role at Eupraxia is to develop scientific strategies and perform high-level scientific oversight, both of which I very much enjoy. I would advise students to get as much experience as possible. Co-ops, internships, and career panels are great resources to utilize during your undergraduate and graduate degrees. Pay attention to which parts of your program you enjoy the most and which parts you don’t enjoy. This will help you filter out career options after grad school. Make sure to also take advantage of networking opportunities at conferences and seminars given by visiting speakers.
3. What have been the obstacles for you during your career? Do you believe any of these were specific to being a female? How did you approach them?
In the initial stages of my career, there was skepticism surrounding my abilities to perform my role in the company from some of the board members. This may not be associated with me being a female but more about my ability in handling the position as a new hire. I began my career in industry using the same approach I had taken in grad school. This approach worked when the company was small; however, as the company grew, managing bureaucratic aspects of the job became difficult for me. To understand how to handle these new situations, I read many books. It would have been helpful to have mentors during this transition or even take a short executive training or project management course, especially as I was not coming from a management background.
4. As a Chief Scientific Officer, you deal with science and management responsibilities at the same time. Can you specify any skills you learned in grad school which prepared you for these roles?
Speaking and writing skills helped me a lot during my career. Networking during conferences taught me how to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. Also, grad school gave me the capacity to compile a large pool of data and identify what the important piece of information is from that data. This is a crucial skill to survive in any career. Skills such as the ability to troubleshoot issues and to learn things very quickly prepared me well for my position in industry.
5. As a Chief Scientific Officer, are there aspects of leadership which you struggle with?
Being a critic is the hardest part. I still struggle with having to give negative feedback to people. Managing people and meetings are quite challenging too, given that I come from a science background instead of a management background.
6. How do you maintain your work-life balance?
I think work-life balance is all about setting expectations early. When my children were young, it was always tricky to manage my responsibilities as a parent and as an employee. I feel like I maintained good work-family balance back then, instead of work-life balance. Now that my children are older, I think about having more mental space for myself, such as exercising frequently and spending time reading books.
7. What has been most challenging about having a demanding career and a family? What would you like young scientists to know about this?
A career is a full time job, family is a full time job, and maintaining a house is a full time job. You won’t be able to do all three things perfectly. It is about understanding what are the important things and making time for those things. I think the challenging part is keeping up with those priorities. Picking where you work has a lot to do with maintaining a work-family balance. When you are looking for a new job, it is important to ask beforehand about the work culture and expectations for the position so that you do your best to have a great career and still be able to manage a family. Also, setting expectations with your partner early about the division of roles will make it easy for you to manage both a career and family.
8. Imposter syndrome is quite prevalent in female scientists. Is this something you’ve observed during your career? What do you think we can do to counter it?
I always come across that doubt as to whether I am the right person to do the assigned job. Whenever the question pops into my head, I look at what I have done in the past to reach the position I am in today. Thinking about your past accomplishments clearly shows you all the things you are capable of doing.
9. How do you contribute to supporting female scientists that are following in the same path as you?
In the corporate world, I am conscientious about hiring women and appointing women to management positions.
10. What advice would you give to students and young females interested in science?
Be aware of new opportunities and try to explore career options to see what you like. Don’t be afraid to aim for the position or role you see yourself in. Reach out to people and learn from them the different pathways that are possible to reach your dream job.