As we approach International Women’s Day, we are reminded of the incredible women who have broken barriers, challenged the status quo, and pushed boundaries in their fields. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing one such trailblazer – Alison Todd, the Chief Scientific Officer & Founder of SpeeDx, a company that specialises in molecular diagnostic solutions that go beyond simple detection to offer comprehensive information for improved patient management.
Read our discussion with Alison below.
Can you tell us about your background and how you became interested in your field?
I have a PhD in molecular biology, in a very clinical area. I practiced at the Royal Prince Alfred, on the molecular biology of leukemia.
I was asked to look at point mutations on leukemia, and I didn’t want to do it by the standard methods of the time, so I invented something new.
This was the start of a lifetime of inventing technology to come up with faster and cheaper methods that give more information accurately, but faster. I have been working in the field of personalised medicine ever since.
Last year, you won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation – can you tell us some more about this?
I’ve continued to do my work around specialised medical treatment and founded with Elisa Mokany – my cofounder – SpeeDx.
We spun this out of Johnson & Johnson – taking some Intellectual Property that we had developed, which was patented with Spruson & Ferguson’s help.
We started SpeeDx and we have continued to develop IP in the area of genetic analysis.
We sell a large number of tests for oncology and infectious diseases and were recognised last year for this work.
How have you overcome challenges or obstacles in your career, and what have you learned from them?
One of my biggest challenges has been looking at things others may not be ready for, that are further into the future than others can see.
People don’t necessarily think that things are possible when I tell them initially, and it can be a long time before the field catches up.
As an example, I first proposed that you could detect cancer mutations in plasma, and use that to monitor diseases, which was doubted initially. This was proposed 20 years before it was a reality.
We now license the technology and our partner in Europe sells it.
My biggest learning from these challenges, is don’t give up. If you believe in something, keep on believing and keep on striving towards your goals.
Similarly, what advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
Don’t give up is the advice I’d give for women in STEM. That, and be true to yourself.
How do you see the role of women in innovation and intellectual property evolving in the future, and what changes do you hope to see?
I hope that as time goes on, there are fewer barriers to women taking senior positions.
That over time, it becomes easier for us and we have more say in the direction of how the fields are going.
Breaking down those barriers will mean we see more women in the senior roles: CEOs, board members, Research Managers in laboratories.
Pictured: Alison and Simon Potter at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science presentation dinner.