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Childcare infrastructure central to promoting women in science – Dr Gitte Neubauer

Dr Gitte Neubauer, inaugural winner of the top award at the EU Prize for Women Innovators.
Dr Gitte Neubauer, inaugural winner of the top award at the EU Prize for Women Innovators.

Childcare facilities and the chance for fathers to participate equally in looking after children are central measures needed to enable more women to pursue careers in science. That’s according to the inaugural EU Prize for Women Innovators winner, Dr Gitte Neubauer, who co-founded the biotechnology company Cellzome. She will be speaking at the EU’s Innovation Convention 2014 on 10 March.

Why did you choose a career in drug discovery?

‘I think drug discovery is one of the most exciting and at the same time most difficult areas you can apply yourself to. It is immensely gratifying that we can apply our science and technology to get better medicines which actually reach patients. For me this prospect is so much more gratifying than any academic research could be.’

Which diseases does your research target?

‘Now that we are integrated into GlaxoSmithKline (the drug company that bought her company Cellzome in 2012), we apply our technology to a broad range of indications. This makes our work actually more interesting than as an independent company, when we had to focus quite heavily on lead optimisation for inflammatory diseases.’

Can you describe an exciting piece of research you are currently involved in?

‘One of the most exciting areas we are currently contributing to is our research on diseases of the developing world, for example malaria. With our technology, we are able to identify the protein target of active substances which kill the parasite, which allows a totally new, targeted design of new drugs for this devastating disease.’

You won the EUR 100 000 top award at the EU Prize for Women Innovators. How has this affected your career?

‘The prize gave me a fantastic boost in self-confidence and also visibility! Cellzome was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline only six months after I received the prize, and even though negotiations at the time were already quite advanced, it certainly didn’t hurt to have the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Sir Andrew Witty, sit in the audience when I received it.’

In some countries, women account for less than 30 % of academic scientists. Why do you think men still outnumber women in science and research posts? Is it, as studies suggest, because women leave science once they have completed a PhD?

‘I think a lot of women feel they have to decide either on a career or a family, and pursuing a career, especially in academic research, requires a high investment of time and focus on success in the critical years after completing a PhD. This seems, for men, far easier to combine with family aspirations than for women. And, of course, women still have to fight with prejudices.’

The EU's Innovation Convention 2014 is taking place in Brussels on 10-11 March.

What can policymakers do to get more women into top science posts?

‘Infrastructure for childcare and a framework that allows fathers to participate equally in childcare are probably the two most important measures in my mind. Encouraging girls already in school to take an interest in science and engineering will also help to build self-confidence in these typically “male” areas. And, last but not least, providing role models and highlighting their importance, to show younger women that it is their right to aspire to top posts and to boost their confidence.’

Do you believe in gender quotas?

‘I believe we need a public discussion about quotas. I would hope that we don’t need them to affect change, but then we have to accept that progress might be much slower (without quotas).’

Have a look at the full programme for details.

Dr Gitte Neubauer

Dr Neubauer is scientific founder of biotech company Cellzome, and took charge of the company after GlaxoSmithKline bought it in 2012.

In 2011, she won the inuagural top EU Prize for Women Innovators for female scientists who have founded or co-founded a company and whose research has benefited from EU funding. The idea behind the award is to inspire young female scientists by giving them role models of women who have turned a scientific discovery into a business.

Dr Neubauer will speak at the EU’s Innovation Convention 2014, where the winners of the second award will be announced.

She is on the board of BioPro Baden-Württemberg, an agency providing advice and support to the life sciences sector, and she is a member of the industrial advisory board of the biotechnology faculty of the University of Applied Sciences in Mannheim, Germany.

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