March 11, 2022

Perspective: David Dow

Spotlight – David Dow 

Tell us about your schooling/professional background before coming to Adaptimmune. 

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” This was a question I faced one day whilst doing my daily paper round at school. Up until that point I had always wanted to be a professional footballer. At school, I was lucky to have an amazing chemistry teacher, Mr. McColl, and quickly I became completely engrossed. 

What was my answer to the question? Without thinking, I replied, “I want to do cancer research”. I guess that was the time when I realised I wanted to be a scientist and when my life took a different direction. Many years later, here I am, doing just that! 

I grew up in a very scenic area of Scotland. I didn’t meet a real scientist until I went to university, but somehow, I knew I wanted to be one. As a result, I do believe passionately in helping the next generation of scientists and have been fortunate to mentor many junior scientists through the industrial placement scheme and I also continue to mentor several scientists today.

At university I was fascinated by all things DNA and always wanted to do work that was medically applied. Following University, I initially trained as a pathologist in Cambridge, and this enabled me to combine the two. Looking out of the lab window, I could see the building where Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. That was really inspiring! During this time, I was very fortunate to be a member of the team that discovered one of the 20,000 human genes. It has always fascinated me that you can make a complex human body from only 20,000 basic building blocks!

Later, at a prior employer, I was introduced to the world of cell and gene therapies. At the time, I didn’t realise I was working on a ground-breaking programme. After several years and the contribution of many, many talented people, the work resulted in the development and approval of the world’s first paediatric cell and gene therapy. I really thought that cell and gene therapies could be a new pillar of medicine and I think today you can see this is becoming true, with multiple approvals, including four for CAR-T cell therapies in recent years. 

Tell us about your current role at Adaptimmune.

Last year, I was excited to join as Senior Director of Allogeneic research. I could see that Adaptimmune had made very significant progress in both the autologous and allogeneic cell therapy fields and that the allogeneic approach could play a role in the future of cell therapies for cancer. My role is the day to day running of the Allogeneic research group, which means being involved in many different areas. There is a lot of variety, which I enjoy, and I am working with a great team. Every single day we are all dedicated to helping patients with cancer and to making breakthroughs today, that will result in the cancer medicines of tomorrow. One day I might be working on our collaborations with Astellas or Genentech, another planning for the future and expanding the group through recruitment or helping to progress our first allogeneic product towards clinical trials. 

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I have spent my whole life being afraid of heights and have experienced vertigo many times. However, I do believe that sometimes you must face your fears, so I have paraglided over the Gulf of Mexico and climbed Scafell Pike in the Lake District. 

Experiences for me that were both mildly terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure!