Throughout the course of her life, Dr. Andrea Fanjul has wanted to find a career in which she could make an impact on the well-being of other people. This desire, combined with her passion for applied science and biology, led her to a career in biopharmaceutical research at not only small biotech startups, but also at major global research companies. Today, she is a principal scientist at Takeda in California, where she researches treatments for liver disease.
“I lost my father and sister-in-law to liver disease,” she says. “I deeply understand how difficult it is to come up with a solution, but that the patient is waiting. We need to hurry to get to a point of providing solutions for them.”
When pursuing her Ph.D. at Universidad Nacional de Tucumán in Argentina, Dr. Fanjul focused on cell biology. Today, she continues that work by searching for new methods of treating liver disease caused by cellular malfunction, either due to genetic mutation or non-functioning proteins. At the moment, liver disease is particularly difficult to detect, but Dr. Fanjul and her team are working to develop technologies that can provide earlier and more accurate diagnoses.
Every day, Dr. Fanjul works with her team to design and run experiments intended to analyze various potential treatments.
“If the experiment worked, we will set up the next step. If it didn’t work – which I must say is sometimes frustrating – we will think about why and try to come up with a solution,” she says. “But at the end of the day, we always learn from science no matter what.”
The Driving Force
At the core of Dr. Fanjul’s work is a desire to improve the lives of patients.
“Takeda sets up meetings that allow us to meet face-to-face with patients,” she says. “During these meetings, they tell us how grateful they are for the science we do, for the molecules, the medicines that we develop and how they have actually changed their lives. Those stories always bring tears to my eyes and bring a sense of purpose.”
Challenges and Collaboration
Drug development can be an emotional process, with only 12 percent of potential treatments successfully making it through the clinical trials and approval process. Dr. Fanjul admits that, at times, her work can feel frustrating – as if there’s no solution to be found.
“It is particularly hard when you work in an area where you have a close friend or family member suffering from that disease, because we’re always running against the clock,” she says. “In those cases, that race becomes much more personal, so it’s harder.”
Yet, with the patient in mind, she keeps an intense focus on the end-goal of making an impact.
“What most excites me about biopharmaceutical research is how fast technology is evolving, and the implications for research and development,” she says. “Every day, the process is a little faster, and it’s a little better for the patients.”
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