DDW’s Megan Thomas looks at a day in the life of Giusy Di Conza, Head of Research at iOnctura.
MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
GDC: I’m Head of Research for a young, dynamic biotech called iOnctura. We are pioneering research into new biological mechanisms for established drug targets. Whereas traditionally biotechs have studied the effect of a drug on a singular pathway, we are focused on targets that are involved in multiple independent tumour supressing pathways. For instance it has been known for years that PI3Kd inhibition directly stops cancer cells dividing. However, we are now showing that inhibition also unveils the tumour to the immune system by changing the balance of important immune cell mediators – this knowledge means we can derive new strategies to effectively tackle the cancer.
MT: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
GDC: Well, when you discover something new it is always fulfilling and a highlight in that moment of your career. Besides that, before joining iOnctura, I was fortunate enough to work in several prestigious universities alongside world-leading academic researchers. This gave me the opportunity to network with inspiring scientists, some of which were Nobel candidates. Many of them started spinoff companies to apply their findings to help patients. This subsequently inspired me to look towards industry to work in a role where I can be at the forefront of developing drugs to advance medicine, while still making new discoveries.
MT: What drug discovery breakthrough has been most impactful to your research?
GDC: The development and launch of the checkpoint inhibitors for the treatment of cancer. These drugs have not only revolutionised cancer care but have taught us so much about how cancer cells evade the immune system to survive. The next generation of research is focusing on how to combine these drugs to prevent resistance and have a bigger, longer-term impact on cancer, hopefully in all patients, and not only subpopulations as it is now. It’s a really exciting time for oncology drug development.
MT: What has been the best piece of career advice you have received?
GDC: One of my mentors told me to follow my passions and to never give up on something that I believe in. But I also learned from him to take a break when I feel overwhelmed. All great advice that I continue to follow to this day.
MT: What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
GDC: Never stop learning – try and learn as much as you can and even if a topic is new and you feel out of your depth at the beginning, it will be extremely valuable to be an expert in that space at a later date.
MT: If you could make everyone read one book, article or academic paper, what would it be and why?
GDC: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is a great read for women across all industries. As a woman in research, it can be hard to believe in yourself, but this book is a great lesson in rising to grab the opportunities in front of you. I would also recommend reading biographies of scientists that lived and worked at the beginning of the 20th century and made amazing breakthrough discoveries at that time, when you still had to blow in your pipette! It is inspiring and fundamental to understand the building blocks of biology and medicine.
DDW Volume 24 – Issue 3, Summer 2023