The lawyer looking for more innovative funding for drug development

Chelsea Roche is Senior Legal Counsel and Assistant Company Secretary at LifeArc, a medical research charity that aims to develop patient treatment and diagnostics from promising science.

I’m from a different background to the rest of the FLIER cohort. I’m an intellectual property lawyer although I started out as a scientist, so I’m not completely a fish out of water.

I trained in nuclear medicine, where we use radiation to help diagnose or treat disease, then I worked in the NHS and in the private sector before retraining to become a lawyer. I chose intellectual property law so I could continue to use my science, primarily working with life sciences companies.

At LifeArc we have expertise in translation, so we help advance research from the lab to the point where it can be partnered. It’s quite a broad role. I could be providing advice on drafting or negotiating agreements, for example, but I also work closely with Executive Directors and the Board of Trustees on compliance and governance issues, and on strategy.

I’m really inspired and have a lot of energy for my work, so it’s great to work at LifeArc where we’re all motived to create a positive change.

FLIER stood out to me straight away. I’d got to a point in my career where I wanted to identify ways to work collaboratively across different sectors to address shared health challenges. I’ve got an immense amount out of the programme already and I’m really enjoying it.

At the moment we’re working on developing our leadership skills. I’m looking at ways that I can encourage innovation, which is challenging because I’m in the legal team and we are traditionally quite risk-averse. But taking risks is a core part of being innovative, so it’s a challenge that I’m working on.

When we move on to project work, I want to investigate innovative ways of funding research because I see that as a challenge in drug development. In my mind, the problem is that the primary driver for funding research is return on investment. This means that some other really promising research can be left behind.

Take antimicrobial research, where it costs a lot of money to get a medicine to the market. If you come up with a new antibiotic, the new medicine would be kept in reserve as a last line of defence. The difficulty is the maker receives their income from sales of the medicine, so there is no opportunity in this case to make back the investment in the R&D. Yet the world needs to find new antibiotics to tackle drug-resistant infections.

I’d like to explore de-prioritising the return-on-investment element from funding.

I’d also like to look at how other models have worked in different sectors to see if they can be translated across to drug development. This means speaking to big funders, getting people to collaborate cross-sector and pass the baton so it’s not just one entity taking on all the risk. By the end of the FLIER Programme, I hope to have a road-map for a new funding model, and perhaps even some committed investment. 

Chelsea Roche is a participant in Round 1 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. If you would like to support the work of the Academy to develop talented researchers, visit our Supporters page.

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