Dr Cathy Drinkwater: Collaboration Conduit
January 06, 2020
‘I’ve been described as a scientific butterfly,’ laughs Dr Cathy Drinkwater, Director of Project Management at BioCurate. ‘I love learning about new things. As a molecular biologist, I can see that it’s fundamentally the same factors that underlie different processes in different diseases. It’s exciting to see the picture come together.’
Helping this big picture come together is the big vision that BioCurate has, and it was what drew Cathy to the organisation. ‘I completely agree with Glenn [Dr C. Glenn Begley, CEO of BioCurate]. Australia is too small to compete on the global stage as individual parties. We need to work together.’ This emphasis on collaboration and cooperation was born from Cathy’s experiences during her PhD.
For Cathy, undertaking her PhD at the Howard Florey Institute was one of the best times of her life. ‘Of course, there was plenty of frustration, but by the time I was writing my thesis, I just enjoyed the feeling of having achieved a certain depth in my knowledge and the sense of completing something. I had a lot of autonomy and I revelled in being my own boss.’ For her, what was underrated about the entire PhD experience was the personal development that went beyond the confines of the lab. ‘You learn to become a team player, whether it’s negotiating equipment bookings or learning how to deal with different personalities. These skills are so valuable.’
After postdoctoral positions at Stanford University of School of Medicine and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Cathy made the transition into industry. Beginning as a Principal Scientist at AMRAD Corporation (later Zenyth Therapeutics), Cathy was still actively involved in research. ‘However, in industry, it is research with a purpose. A purpose to develop new drugs,’ commented Cathy.
One of the starkest differences between academia and industry that Cathy noted was the motivation that drove research. ‘ It’s push vs pull: in industry, you know where you want to go – your work is being pulled through and guided by the end goal. In academia, new discoveries can push your research in different directions, sometimes with a lack of focus.’ It was also in industry where Cathy began to understand the importance of robust and reproducible research data. ‘There is a necessary ruthlessness in industry. If we couldn’t replicate the data, we dropped the project. It just wasn’t worth pursuing.’ This focus on reproducibility is one that is very much at the forefront at BioCurate.
After her time as Project Manager at CSL, managing projects at various stages along the development pathway, Cathy moved back to early discovery projects at Cancer Therapeutics CRC, which she now continues at BioCurate. It’s a perfect fit for her. ‘I love being exposed to exciting new discoveries, although the slower pace of academic research can sometimes be a bit frustrating,’ she says. Despite this, Cathy is pleased to see scientists from both academia and industry beginning to act on the need for collaboration. Cathy comments, ‘Seeing multiple groups working on the same type of projects, but not talking to each other didn’t make sense to me. I’m so glad that it’s definitely changing now.’
Her extensive and expansive experience, as well as her expertise in endocrinology, neurobiology, oncology, immunology and inflammation, positions Cathy as an authority on early drug discovery, but also a leader in fostering stronger ties between the seemingly disparate worlds of academia and industry. She understands the needs and nuances of both.
For scientists who want to bridge this gap and to contribute to the development of novel treatments, she offers the following advice: ‘Be open to collaboration. Find people you can trust and who can offer you new ways of looking at your scientific problem. All my best successes have involved multidisciplinary teams.’