March 17, 2022

Perspective: Rosie McEwen-Smith

Allogeneic – Smashing Stereotypes

Why is British Science Week significant to you?

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my life choices, because looking back on the time I decided to do cell biology as an undergraduate degree, realistically I had no idea exactly what job I wanted afterwards!

I recently spoke to a student in a STEM workshop who was interested in a career in science, and it became clear to me that still there is a very limited awareness of the job possibilities that a degree and career in science could lead to. It's frustrating that students may overlook pursuing studies in science because the standard picture of a scientist in a white coat pipetting repeatedly didn’t appeal to them. By utilsing initiatives such as British Science week, the scientific community have a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the scientific achievements made and educate and excite young people about the many benefits of working UK scientific research, and make sure we tap into the pool of valuable and undiscovered talent to progress research in the future.

This year’s theme for British Science Week is #SmashingStereotypes, is there anything you may want to share regarding your experience as a woman in science? What are your hopes for the role of women in science?

I have been fortunate in my career to work in environments where, as a woman, I have felt supported and encouraged to push the boundaries and develop my career. That being said, I have experienced, and have had countless conversations with, in particular, female colleagues about feeling imposter syndrome, evolving to the extent that it delays pushing for the promotion, project lead role, external opportunities etc. I hope that with more support and information on jobs in STEM starting in schools, more female role-models in senior leadership positions, and research facilities allowing (encouraging) flexible working to accommodate family commitments that more women see science as a career choice where they can succeed at all levels. 

Can you please tell us what motivated you to choose a career in science?

After a childhood of being adamant I wanted to be a vet, one week’s work experience and one particularly gruesome surgery swiftly led to a switch in my career strategy to investigate the underlying biology instead. I always had a curiosity for trying to understand how the body worked, in relation to disease in particular; this inevitably led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in cell biology and a PhD in Immunology. What I particularly love about this field is the opportunity to use my initiative and imagination to answer scientific questions, which although frustrating at times, is especially rewarding when we do get it right. As my career develops, the continuous battle to keep up with an ever-changing and competitive field keeps the work interesting and genuinely makes me excited about my job.

Can you please tell us what you do at Adaptimmune? And can you tell us about the allogeneic platform you work on?

I’m currently leading the T-cell team of the Allogeneic Research Group where we are focused on further characterising off the shelf iPSC-derived T cell (iT-cell). By correlating functional data with phenotypic analysis of iT-cells, as well as cytokine and chemokine release, and comparing this with the literature and what we know from our established autologous T-cells platform, we hope to optimize our differentiation platform to achieve highly efficacious and persistent iT-cells - a key characteristic associated with long-term remission in cancer patients.

Can you please tell us how what you did before coming to Adaptimmune?

Before joining Adaptimmune I completed my DPhil in the Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine (WIMM) in Oxford in the late Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo’s lab. I stayed on as a post-Doc for one year continuing my DPhil project assessing the regulatory role of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells during the innate and adaptive immune response to influenza A infection before following my goal of working in more patient-directed research and moving to industry.

Can you please tell us what are your hopes for the future of cancer immunotherapy? Feel free to refer to our mission to transform the lives of people with cancer.

I really believe allogeneic therapy could transform how we treat cancer in the future, so I hope to see even more time, resource, and money investment given to developing allogeneic therapies to make them more cost-effective and available to all patients who need them.