Employee Spotlight - Julie Owen

Julie Owen has spent the last 10 years studying and working in the field of in-silico drug design. As a Senior Drug Discovery Scientist at Cyclica, Julie uses Cyclica’s technology to design drugs for a broad variety of indications and targets. Julie grew up in Ireland, receiving her BSc(Hons) in Chemistry from University College Cork in 2004. She has spent most of her professional career working outside of Ireland, settling in Canada in 2010. Julie obtained her MSc in Drug Design from University College London through a distance learning programme, where she earned the Dean’s Prize for her dissertation on repositioning drugs to treat malaria.  Julie’s passion for in-silico drug design is rooted in her desire to expedite and streamline the drug discovery process, with the hope that patients can access therapeutic treatments faster. 

What’s your role at Cyclica?

I was hired by Cyclica during the pandemic Summer of 2020,  as an Applied Scientist. Much to my delight, the role involved more than applying the technology. We assess external projects, design and progress our own internal projects and present our findings at conferences. We recently changed the team name to better reflect the work we’re doing. I am now a part of the Drug Discovery team, which, as the name implies, involves discovering new and/or repositioning drug candidates for different therapeutic areas. 

What has been your favourite project so far?
I love the diversity of projects that we have here at Cyclica. I prefer to work in an environment where I am learning, and through Cyclica, I’ve connected with many key experts in diverse therapeutic areas. I am particularly proud of our open source projects, such as the collaborations with SGC and contributions to the OAS1 Consortium “CONTEST”. While IP is a key requirement for companies to be able to recoup the R&D expenditure and continue to fund further research, it is equally important to partner with scientists who are committed to sharing their data to help facilitate the discovery of drugs.

What was your first job?
My first professional job was in my hometown of Cork, Ireland where I was Senior QC Analyst at Pfizer. This experience taught me the value of scientific integrity, maintaining GMP standards and working collaboratively as part of a large team. In many ways, my second job was the complete antithesis of this, not only because it was located in the exact antipode of Ireland, which is to say that I moved to New Zealand. But also because I worked at a start-up company, Anzode, which is starkly different from working at a large pharmaceutical plant. Working for a start-up, I learned to be comfortable with change and to apply my own ideas instead of relying on SOP’s and STP’s. Being exposed to two very contrasting environments in my early 20’s was a great learning experience. I’ve since worked at a not-for-profit, corporate and now a biotechnology company and learned a lot from the diversity of the different organisations.  

How do you define success?
“Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”  Success is finding a role that you enjoy so much, that it’s hard to leave the desk at the end of the day. I  am often prompted to leave my desk at 6pm and spend hours on the weekends reading journals to keep up with the state-of-the-art. I speak from experience, as I have changed careers twice.  I’ve learned something new from every job, but I have definitely found my calling in drug design.

What books do you want to read?
It’s far more likely that I will spend my spare time reading scientific journals, but when I do read fiction books I always enjoy Kazuo Ishiguro. I just finished reading “Klara and the Sun”, and I have a few more of his novels to read. My favourite book of his is “Remains of the Day”. I took that book as a lesson to grasp opportunities as they arise and not to worry about what others think. In essence,”seize the day” and don’t wonder what remains of the day. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
Outside of work, I like to socialize with family and friends. I also love to travel. I can combine both when we visit our families in Ireland and Wales. We’ve taken our daughters to visit them every year (apart from 2020). We’ve travelled to various places around the world as a family and the photo I’m including here is a snapshot of a pre-pandemic trip to Tofino, in front of the Pacific ocean. I look forward to more travel in the (hopefully) not too distant future.



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