PharmaTimes talks to some of pharma and healthcare’s most promising young leaders, already making waves in their companies and brightening the future
Helena Deus, Elsevier, Technology Research Director
What is your background, and what does your current role involve?
I am a computational biologist by training but my original degree was in marine biology. Over the years, I pursued careers that would fulfil both my need for interesting problems to solve and for work within the healthcare domain. For me, cancer is personal and so whenever I can I will take on projects that help move the needle in finding the best treatment for each patient – a practice called precision oncology. I was fortunate enough to have been allowed to pursue part of my PhD at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the largest cancer centre in the US, where I learned a tremendous amount about cancer biology and oncologists’ workflow. My current role involves helping senior leaders in the organisation understand the role that Elsevier can play by leveraging its internal knowledge, people and capabilities to advance and accelerate the translation of scientific knowledge into clinical practice.
Which career successes are you most proud of?
Recently, I helped Elsevier create the Coronavirus Research Hub where anyone who needs access to COVID-19 research or clinical guidelines can get it. I am very proud of the work I delivered at Foundation Medicine, providing software tools to medical curators to find meaningful and actionable medical information to help cancer patients based on genetic mutations in their tumours. During my post- doc I helped deliver an in-silico biology platform that helped cancer chemoprevention scientists discover previously unknown naturally occurring chemicals that had high potential to prevent cancer, for which my team won two international awards. One contribution of my work that had more impact than I expected was a market analysis of uses of Augmented and Virtual Reality in Healthcare, which informed Elsevier’s decision to acquire a company called 3D4Medical that helps medical students learn anatomy via 3D models.
How do you hope to make a difference in oncology care?
Our knowledge of cancer biology and the many ways that cancer evolves and responds to or resists treatment make it an incredibly complex and relentless disease. Even though it’s nearly impossible for an individual doctor to digest all the available scientific information about the factors that affect cancer response to treatment and cross check that against thousands of data points about every individual patient, a computer can do it fairly easily. The problem lies in feeding that information into a computer in a way that it can digest, process, reason and learn from. The data science skills that I developed throughout my career can help solve that. One patient at a time.
What inspired you to become a STEM mentor for women?
Working and interacting with amazing bright young women who had so much talent and energy to offer yet felt unsure and undermined when they attempted to pursue careers in STEM.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I will be living on a sailboat, sailing between islands in the Caribbean and returning to a career in marine biology. If you find me living on a sailboat, it will mean that cancer is no longer killing millions of people every year.