Taking the lead towards more effective treatments

Dr Muireann Coen is a FLIER participant, Director of Oncology Discovery Safety Science at AstraZeneca and a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London. We asked her what she has learned on the FLIER programme and how it’s helping her to make a difference in developing new, safer treatments.


Q: What issue in health research do you want to take on and why?

A: I want to focus on building a better understanding of drug targets at an early discovery stage. We have so many new and exciting technologies that allow us to study the interaction between genes, proteins, metabolites and environment. I am particularly interested in new, metabolic cancer therapies, and how we might modify environmental factors such as diet, or the gut microbiome to maximise the effectiveness of treatments.  

Q: What have you learnt on the FLIER programme and how are you putting it into practice?

A: I have learnt about, and importantly had time to reflect on, different styles and approaches to effective leadership. On a practical level, I have focused on ensuring my team are fully engaged and have defined a shared vision and mission. I have harnessed complementary expertise across sectors to maximise our biological understanding of drug targets.

Q: Have you done anything differently as a result of FLIER?

A: As part of FLIER, I have focused on establishing a strong collaborative knowledge network between Imperial College London and AstraZeneca which I am delivering through post-graduate Master’s student projects, PhD studentships and fellowships. I have seen the value of these endeavours at many levels, not only for generating the best scientific knowledge, but also for overall development of both the researchers and supervisors who are exposed to a broader scientific landscape and network of expertise.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Seek out collaborations with scientists from different backgrounds, and focus on team science where you are part of inter-disciplinary teams and are not siloed. This will provide the most impactful scientific outcome, and a bigger picture that cannot often be found within the boundaries of your own discipline. Take time to pause and reflect on the value of collaborations, strategies, outputs and the paths ahead.

Q: What are your hopes for the future in the health sector?

A: To see renewed and increased collaboration between industry, academia and the health service to build novel insight into diseases and effects of therapies. The complexity of human biology and disease pathogenesis, and the need to understand how drugs interact at a population level, is too great a challenge to be tackled or solved by any one sector. The development of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is a perfect example of what success from cross-sector collaboration can entail.


Dr Muireann Coen is a participant in Round 2 of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ FLIER programme, a unique programme that will develop leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation.

The FLIER programme is generously supported by the Dennis and Mireille Gillings Foundation and the Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ‘Investment in Research Talent’ fund. You can find out more about our funding model and explore our donors here, or visit our Support Us webpage to explore ways to help our work. 

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