Alia studied medicine at Cardiff University, started her registrar training in London, and then settled in Sheffield.
Alia studied medicine at Cardiff University, started her registrar training in London, and then settled in Sheffield. She took time out of training to take up a PHD research position at the city’s University having gained the Society for Endocrinology and Clinical Endocrinology Trust fellowship.
“My focus is on developing a treatment for Cushing’s disease.” She explains, “It’s a devastating illness which is caused by a benign pituitary tumour – it’s a condition for which no effective medical treatment, currently exists.”
Alia’s approach to combating this relatively rare, but potentially terminal condition revolves around her research into a type of molecule call Ribonucleic acid (RNA).“In Cushing’s disease the tumour produces excessively high levels of a hormone called ACTH. This surplus of ACTH causes the dangerous hormonal imbalances, which characterise the condition. I have designed new molecules called short interfering RNAs which can reduce the levels of ACTH through a mechanism called RNA Interference.”
Two years ago, whilst buried in her groundbreaking research, Alia took note of an email that was circulating around the University research labs. She continues, “It was a message notifying academics in the Yorkshire area of a new scheme called the Yorkshire Enterprise Fellowship (YEF). “The scheme was aimed at teaching scientific researchers the skills needed to make a commercial concern of their developments a findings.”
Alia was excited by this opportunity to learn about how she might turn her academic research into a widely available therapeutic product. She says, “I immediately applied to take part in the scheme, and was delighted to be accepted. From the outset, the experience has been an exceptionally informative and beneficial one.”
The overriding insight that Alia gained from YEF experience was that academics often tend to look at their work in a purely intellectual way - with practical application, a secondary concern. “Since attending YEF I am now constantly mindful of my work as a potential commercial entity, and am constantly questioning how it could benefit people in a practical sense.”
All Fellows are assigned a mentor to help guide them through the YEF programme and Alia benefited from Damien Bovey’s invaluable support. She continues, “The mentoring scheme is one of the strongest aspects of the course. Damien not only supported and encouraged me, but also gave me a different perspective on a number of important issues I had been tackling, and offered up insights and proven knowledge that has help shaped my new, more commercially aware, approach to my research.”
One of the key areas of business development that Alia explored through her YEF experience was the patenting of her research. “I’ve learnt that this is a critical part of turning research into a business.” She explains, “Any unique medical breakthrough can attain 5 year market exclusivity through orphan drug designation, which obviously gives you a major head start on getting a successful product to market.”
Another issue that YEF highlighted for Alia - was that of finding a suitable delivery system for her therapeutic molecules. “The course gave me the knowledge and confidence to take a proactive stance on this topic, and I am currently in talks with a company that specialises in this critical area.” She says, “IV injection had been identified as a potential method at this stage - and the talks are continuing.”
Alia recently joined the Enterprising Women network community (EW), and she has already been impressed by the support work they deliver to women in business. “Bev Hurley, the founder of EW, is involved in managing the excellent YEF project.” She continues, “I was confident that EW would be of great value to me as a way of further developing my business skills and commercial awareness. I am really looking forward to getting more involved and attending their business workshops.”
The new molecules that Alia has created have great therapeutic and commercial potential, but in order to maximise this potential and to realise their positive impact on patients – further research and development is needed. “Obtaining further funding is one of my key objectives at the moment. Thanks to my recent business training I feel in a much stronger position to achieve my aims in this area.“
She concludes, “My involvement with YEF and Enterprising Women has helped me come to the conclusion that licensing my research to third parties will be the most effective way of getting my medical advances into the market place – and, for me, this is a very important insight - as getting a beneficial product to patients as soon as possible is the prime reason for me having spent thousands of hours working hard in the research lab.”