Medicine as an art form

03/01/2019
Our employees

Medicine is often compared to art because of a physician’s ability to devise the right therapy at the right time. Ruth Wagner, Group Manager R&D Cell Line Development at Octapharma, and her colleagues achieve something similar when they develop recombinant cell lines that fit perfectly well for further biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Ruth believes in pushing boundaries in order to live a fulfilling personal and professional life.

Ruth Wagner, Group Manager R&D Cell Line Development at Octapharma

Biology came easily to Ruth. Growing up with parents who were both biochemists, she credits her early interest in science to her pre-school age: “My mother had a very rational, but at the same time playful and understandable way to explain nature, science and even chemistry. This just captured my imagination and I loved doing science projects for school and learning all about biology.” As her broader passion for biology and science developed, she also found inspiration in the way the teachers pushed students to discover new things.

Science was always a topic at home. It came naturally. Very soon I had the idea, what I could do with it.

Ruth holds a PhD degree in molecular biotechnology from the University ofHeidelberg, Germany. She conducted her PhD research in the field of adenoassociated virus (AAV) mediated gene therapy at the German Cancer Research Centre also in Heidelberg. During her doctorate, she worked closely with her scientific mentor, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kleinschmidt. “My mentor made a real impact on my scientific career. While working together, he took the time to explain every detail of how the viral system has evolved to make use of complex human biological systems for its own reproduction purposes and how we can translate that information into gene therapy products.” Kleinschmidt gave Ruth his full support. He always gave her advice and encouraged her to discover new solutions. “Jürgen was a walking encyclopaedia. I would discuss my experiments and data with him. His feedback and inputs were very encouraging.”

During her PhD studies, Ruth also focused her attention on publishing several papers on the biology of AAV. AAV is a viral vector tool used in many fields of gene therapy, including haemophilia.

Ruth is Group Manager R&D Cell Line Development at the Octapharma Biopharmaceuticals centre in Heidelberg.
A scientific journey

Solving scientific problems requires time, stamina and focus, something Ruth cultivated as a horseback rider and now a trainee in horsemanship. “Being authentic, progressive and at the same time having a positive attitude is what makes you a great leader for your horse,” she continues. “I like the feeling and focus you develop while working with the horse. In the past, I used to ride for competition. Now, I’m learning the language of the horse.” Ruth does this for life, for her personal development and for her career. “Focus is one of the key elements for being a good horsewoman. You need to think ahead, have a clear picture in mind of what you would like to teach the horse, and stay consistent over the long term. The same applies to research.”

Curiosity also drives her. A fascination for how nature has evolved biological pathways that work together in the human body remains a guiding theme for Ruth.

I think the idea of using individual components of complex biological pathways as tools and turning them into medicines is extremely exciting.
Having the right balance of different talents in a team is a key contributing factor to innovation.
Passion for work and moving forward

Ruth joined Octapharma in 2012 as a scientist in the Quality Control team for analytical method development. In 2014, she became Group Manager R&D Cell Line Development. “It takes courage, self-confidence and focus for a young researcher to assert her or himself. It can be an ambitious goal. And in order to achieve that you have to keep pushing boundaries,” explains the biologist.

With her team, she develops and optimises recombinant cell lines, which serve as production platforms for recombinant therapeutic proteins such as simoctocog alpha. “We are responsible for developing and optimising these cell lines. For this we use state-ofthe- art technologies such as CRISPR/Cas 9. These technologies allow us to engineer cells in a way to make them produce innovative recombinant therapeutic proteins that have quality attributes beneficial to our patients’ needs.”

By modifying the properties of the cells by genetic manipulation, Ruth and her team can learn about the dependencies within the biological system. They follow an approach known as “quality by design”. This is a systematic approach translating information into generation of cell lines that produce therapeutic proteins with superior quality attributes, such as prolonged bioavailability for patients.

Team balance promotes innovation

Having broad diversity within her individual team is important to Ruth. She is convinced that having the right balance of different talents in a team is a key contributing factor to innovation.

In research having a balanced team is very important for ensuring the ability to innovate. It is great working together with so many smart and motivated individuals who are filled with curiosity and have a thirst for knowledge.

For Ruth, great team balance provides room for thinking out of the box and a culture of learning in which researchers are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone, a culture in which they inspire and respect each other. “I greatly enjoy the spirit that arises when a challenging and time-critical task is successfully accomplished by the effort and scientific input of motivated individuals in my team.” Beyond her scientific achievements and work, Ruth also thinks that as an innovator, staying open-minded is the key to success and finding the courage to lead. “I enjoy reading literature from great German authors. I love the way the authors are able to speak their minds and express their convictions. Their writing even has the power to change your mind and you see something from their perspective.”

Looking back, Ruth is proud of what she has achieved during her time in Octapharma with her teams and for our patients. As her friends would describe her, she is an empathic, endearing and easy-going person, but she has her parents’ life story – they fled from Romania to Germany – to thank for her perseverance. “I am very happy at the moment. My journey has been one of self-discovery.”

Keywords

Research & Development

Annual report

Woman in science