Alternative Careers in Medicine - Where can your PhD take you?
In the first of a regular series of case studies, we find out what career options are available to graduates in medicine and life sciences outside of academia. Jon Moore explains how he went from researching cell cycle control to becoming CEO of the University of Edinburgh spin-off company PhenoTherapeutics.
An Interview with Jon Moore (CEO PhenoTherapeutics, Operating Partner at Advent Life Sciences)
What were your first career steps and how did that work out?
I did a sandwich degree at Bath University, which came with the opportunity to work in industry - in my case at Celltech and then British Biotechnology on expressing proteins in mammalian cells. After that I took an academic route until I was 35. I got a first author Science paper with a Nobel Prize winner, so I had some success as a player, if not a manager.
Which industry are you working in now and what qualifications and experience did you need to attain your current role?
I am now working in venture capital and as an executive in start up biotech companies. A BSc, PhD, postdoc or two + 15 years’ experience in the drug discovery industry come in very handy. But there was a large element of right place/ right time to attaining my current role.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
Most days I work from home. The main tool is a laptop, the second a phone. There are a wide range of projects and activities running in parallel so the work is diverse. It’s interacting both with information and people. The non-typical days where I might be pitching, recruiting or thinking about how to configure a new company are both more memorable and enjoyable than the typical ones.
Have you encountered any barriers to entry in your career outside academia and how did you overcome them?
As I had spent 10 years doing postdoctoral work, there were some suspicions amongst potential hirers when it came to moving over to industry. This was true even though the jobs I was applying for tended to be at the more academic end of the drug discovery industry: e.g. target validation for cancer drug discovery. Getting a position is a question of supply and demand – and employers will tend to prefer people who are already working in industry. For people who are experienced postdocs considering a move to industry, I would say don’t expect to be able to get a line management role immediately. One has to learn the ropes first and the rigging is different.
What sort of person would thrive in your particular role?
It definitely helps to have some self-confidence and independence. But the autonomy and stimulation in this sort of role means that a lot of people would enjoy it if they got the chance.
What advice would you give to an early career researcher who might be interested in pursuing a career outside academia?
It could be said that the rest of the world of careers is structured more favourably than academia, though this isn’t always true. I would suggest talking to a few people who have made the transition to see what the differences are and what they feel they have given up.
Jon Moore is CEO of the University of Edinburgh spin-off company PhenoTherapeutics, an Operating Partner at Advent Life Sciences and serves as a scientific advisor to Centauri Therapeutics & Horizon Discovery, where until recently he was CSO.
During his time at Horizon, Jon helped establish the company’s CRISPR screening capabilities and he led an internal research program that identified new synthetic lethal targets for oncology, which are now the subject of a drug discovery partnership with C4X Discovery. Jon also in-licensed and out-licensed key gene modulation and editing technologies that may provide one of the foundations for the next generation of cell therapies against cancers.
Prior to joining Horizon, Jon spent 10 years in small molecule drug discovery at Vernalis, rising to Head of Biology and leading a number of innovative drug discovery programs. This followed extensive postdoctoral research experience in the field of cell cycle control in the laboratories of Sally Kornbluth and then Nobel Prize winner, Tim Hunt. Jon holds a PhD from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and is author of more than 40 peer reviewed papers.