Insight  Medimmune

medimmune: Dedicated to Innovation

When a company positions itself as innovative, it's usually assumed that it’s referring to its technology or products. And often this is true. However, for MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, innovation goes beyond this traditional sense – it is a cultural approach which is deeply embedded in all aspects of the company's operations.

Headquartered in Maryland in the United States, MedImmune has a rich history spanning three decades and currently employs approximately 2,500 people worldwide. The Cambridge facility, evolving out of Cambridge Antibody Technology (that was acquired by AstraZeneca in 2006 and integrated with MedImmune in 2007), is home to MedImmune’s UK research and development centre, focussed on the core therapeutic areas of oncology, respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune, and cardiovascular and metabolic disease, and on providing opportunities to cure diseases and improve quality of life for many people around the world.

MedImmune’s innovative research work is well evidenced through a number of ground-breaking medicines which were discovered in the company’s Cambridge laboratories, such as Humira* (used to treat a range of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis) and Benlysta** (used to treat lupus). Several of the inventors of these products remain with MedImmune and help to maintain the company’s global leadership in several core areas of medical research and technology development; this retained experience is invaluable in ensuring that lessons learned in the past are not repeated, and conversely that positive and innovative steps previously taken are not forgotten.

A culture of innovation

Innovation starts in the mindset of key people and MedImmune’s leaders – both in Cambridge and globally – work hard to foster a culture which emphasises the importance of approaching everything from an innovation perspective. MedImmune’s culture is also highly entrepreneurial, with employees empowered to work flexibly to respond positively to the challenges which arise.

Of course, the impact of an ‘innovation culture’ is harder to quantify in any meaningful way, particularly when all employees are encouraged to embrace innovation in everything they do, from research work in the laboratory to supplying internal support services which facilitate the smooth operation of the company’s operational infrastructure.

The benefit of working within a large global organisation is demonstrated in the number of internal project teams which cross geographical borders and company structures. The collective expertise and skillset of both MedImmune and AstraZeneca teams enables cross-functional groups to identify innovative approaches to tackling the problems presented by leading-edge science, to the advantage of the company’s therapeutic programmes. The world-wide structure also offers staff opportunities to work at a global level and to move through the company to gain new experience.

Inspiring a new generation of scientists

A key element of MedImmune’s recruitment philosophy is to actively seek out diversity of thought and talent; fresh ideas are crucial for the next wave of innovation. For example, MedImmune is at the forefront in adopting best-practice opportunities to attract school-leavers and graduates. The company has embraced the recently-revised national apprentice scheme with more than ten school leavers already making a positive impact within the organisation.

In addition, MedImmune offers industrial placements to around twelve undergraduates each year and supports a number of PhD students through collaboration with a range of UK universities. Not only does this ensure that MedImmune is up to date with the innovative research coming out of academia, it also allows students to gain valuable experience and bring fresh thinking to the company’s work.

A key element of MedImmune’s recruitment philosophy is to actively seek out diversity of thought and talent."

Another way in which MedImmune supports this belief in innovation is in its approach to inspiring and supporting the next generation of scientists. This starts with an active STEM outreach programme which engages with students in a number of ways: from visits to primary schools with interactive ‘experiments’ which seek to excite young minds about basic scientific principles, to tailored programmes which take more senior students through the fundamental processes which underpin pharmaceutical research.

In addition, the company willingly joins in with wider community initiatives, such as the Cambridge Science Festival and the Big Biology Day. Importantly, these activities, enthusiastically staffed by MedImmune volunteers, are also important internally: the creation of student-friendly activities and fundamental questions from students have both been known to trigger thoughts about processes and how they can be improved.

Collaboration with the healthcare community

New and innovative ideas are also generated through collaboration and, perhaps unsurprisingly, MedImmune is committed to collaboration, from sponsoring meetings, attending conferences and contributing to scientific publications to collaborative working with academic centres, foundations, charities, government agencies and the development of commercial partnerships and licensing opportunities.

MedImmune has a long track record of collaborative partnership working, but a recent demonstration of the company’s innovative approach to this can be found in its collaboration with Cancer Research UK (CRUK). Working with CRUK and its commercial arm, Cancer Research Technology, MedImmune has jointly established the Cancer Research UK – MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL) to unite academia and industry in a unique way, sharing knowledge and expertise to discover and develop novel biologics to treat and diagnose cancer. In this pioneering partnership, scientists from both Cancer Research UK and MedImmune work side by side in one new laboratory, focused on jointly agreed therapeutic targets and guided by a joint governance/management structure.

MedImmune has a long track record of collaborative partnership working, but a recent demonstration of the company’s innovative approach to this can be found in its collaboration with Cancer Research UK."

Finally, the physical work environment for the company’s employees is as important as the culture. Reflecting this, in 2018-19, MedImmune will be relocating its Cambridge-based team to work alongside AstraZeneca colleagues at a new R&D centre and corporate HQ building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, close to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and a number of world-leading scientific institutions. The location of the building is important, and being at the heart of the Cambridge bioscience, healthcare and technology cluster and close to many world-leading scientists will further encourage collaboration. And the new building itself is innovative in many ways.

The state-of-the-art laboratories will be separated from other work spaces by glass walls, so that the scientific focus of the company is visible to everyone and is designed to encourage the easy sharing of ideas. And the building’s outer walls will also be made of glass, so that members of the public will be able to see ‘science in action’ as they move around the campus. And in fact, the building will have a café and a courtyard that the public can use. This building, when it opens, will also incorporate a teaching laboratory, providing opportunities for school children and students to see first-hand what it’s like to work in a world-leading pharmaceutical company – which neatly links back to the company’s commitment to inspiring innovative scientists of the future.

*Humira is a registered trademark of AbbVie Inc

** Benlysta is a registered trademark of GSK

About the author

Jacqui Hall is MedImmune’s vice president of learning, standards and insights (LSI), leading the global team responsible for learning, scientific information, R&D intelligence and policies/standards.  Jacqui is also a member of the leadership team at MedImmune’s facility in Cambridge, UK and a member of MedImmune’s Global Biotech Operations Leadership team.  

Jacqui joined Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) in 2006 to establish a project leadership and management group. Following the acquisition of CAT by AstraZeneca, and its subsequent merger with MedImmune in 2007, Jacqui was responsible for setting up the product development team leadership group and instrumental in establishing the role of the product development teams within the organisation.

She established and built a global group of 15 experienced project leaders who were tasked with leading MedImmune’s portfolio of biologics projects. Following further internal reorganisation, Jacqui led a number of initiatives to implement a new operating model and establish principles for the transition of medicines from early to late-stage clinical development.

Prior to joining MedImmune, Jacqui had over 17 years’ experience in clinical development and project leadership gained from roles at Schering-Plough, PPD and GlaxoSmithKline.

Jacqui holds a first class honours degree in chemistry from the University of London and a postgraduate diploma in clinical science from the University of Wales.  She is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, a Fellow of the Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange, and a Board member for the Science Industry Partnership in the UK.

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