Journeys from Bayes: Helping to grow pharma start-ups and novel cures to disease
Bayes MEMBA graduate discusses the value of understanding business and innovation.
A Bayes Business School MBA graduate is using her expertise in pharmaceuticals to give the next generation of companies the chance to succeed.
Kerstin Papenfuss graduated from the Modular Executive MBA (MEMBA) programme in 2019, nine years after completing her PhD. Since then, she has worked at organisations focused on advancing medicine and therapeutics, including medical research charity LifeArc and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, who specialise in all types of drug development.
Dr Papenfuss is now Associate Director at Deep Science Ventures she works with science-based start-ups to enable them to design and develop more effective therapies. And she says the creative side of the job offers opportunity and job satisfaction.
“We create biotech pharma in an outcomes focused way by asking the question ‘what is the problem in this space?’ and ‘if I take it apart using first principles can I develop novel opportunities in house to solve a problem?’. We create platform technologies once an idea has legs and provide pre seed money to get the company off the ground.
“Creating start-ups is a real passion. I want to give students the opportunity to learn, and we have a fellowship programme where PhD students can take three or four months away from their studies to expose themselves to this business. That is really beneficial.”
Dr Papenfuss has also worked at the German Cancer Research Centre before moving to a lab at Imperial College to work on novel treatment options in the field of tumour immunology. But she felt as though she was missing something, adding ‘every time I thought I found something interesting a medicinal chemist would tell me this is never going to reach the patient’.
“I thought I was missing a trick on what makes a good idea and what makes an impact on patients in the market,” said Dr Papenfuss. “My work with LifeArc, one of the biggest medical research charities in the UK, allowed me to work globally with academics to develop novel ideas. I needed to leverage my scientific skills and it was the first time I had to handle commercial questions around IP, markets, and differentiation.
“Our team grew from two to ten and we were managing strategic collaborations with pharma companies. I needed a firmer understanding of business and entrepreneurship, as I want to run my own biotech company at some stage. I didn’t know how to get there because, while I had learned a lot on the job, I needed an academic foundation.”
Dr Papenfuss, a winner of the Women in Business award at Bayes and recipient of one of the 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness in 2018, started her MEMBA in 2017, targeting supplementary knowledge in areas including finance. She has since applied her learnings on the job in various leadership positions, as she studied in parallel to this.
“I switched jobs during the course and was able to drive innovation from the beginning. I wanted to help create novel tech to cure patients from horrible diseases and had been tasked to develop a software strategy to discover the next big thing in science early on and where we should invest.
“I could immediately apply my learnings – my thesis was focused on tech developed at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and how to commercialise that. I was able to workshop some great examples through group working and there were already some case studies in the company, so I was able to provide benefit to problems colleagues were facing which was great.”
Dr Papenfuss says she has a ‘better view of organisations as a whole and has changed her thinking’ because of the course.
“I now look to create opportunities for myself rather than waiting for them to happen,” she said. “We are a start-up, and we want to scale up and achieve something different. I feel very well placed to do that now.”
Professor Stephen Thomas, Associate Dean for MBA Programmes at Bayes, said: ''We are very proud of our MBA students and the contributions they go on to make to the wider society. Kerstin is a wonderful example of how the strong learning experience of core MBA tools coupled with the culture of creative and innovative attitudes can dramatically impact people's lives for the good.
"We have a steady flow of very high quality students with a scientific and medical background who use our programmes to 'tool up' for the next phase of their careers and Kerstin is an excellent example. Her success in the 'Women in Business' awards hopefully reflects the positive attitudes encouraged in our MBA environment and we will be carefully watching her progress going forward.''