Company: Intellia Therapeutics
Title: Chief scientific officer
Laura Sepp-Lorenzino, Ph.D., knew from a young age what she wanted to do when she grew up. Around the age of 9, Sepp-Lorenzino was taken to a seminar on pharmacokinetics by her mother, a pharmacist who she calls one of her heroes “as a woman, as a leader and as a professional.” The event had a big effect on the young Sepp-Lorenzino.
“That day I was completely sold,” Sepp-Lorenzino said. “I knew then I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to be a drug developer.”
Years later, Sepp-Lorenzino went on to study pharmacy and biochemistry at the University of Buenos Aires in her native Argentina before moving to the U.S. to take up a position at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The academic position put Sepp-Lorenzino in contact with industry collaborators, cementing her desire to ultimately work at a drug development company.
Sepp-Lorenzino was attracted to industry by the collaborative nature of drug development, which entails multidisciplinary teams working toward defined goals by solving a series of problems. To be effective, such teams need leadership, and Sepp-Lorenzino has long seen that as one of the ways she contributes.
“You don't need to be the CSO to be a leader,” Sepp-Lorenzino said. “You can be a leader at any stage of your career. It's being able to have a vision and energize the people around you to together try to move forward to find a solution. It's inspiring and motivating people toward a common goal.”
Sepp-Lorenzino made the move into the industry by taking up a position at Merck, a company she collaborated with while at MSK. The role initially centered on oncology small molecules, but after several years, Sepp-Lorenzino was challenged to consider how to use nucleic acids to treat cancer and other diseases.
That challenge came during the early years of RNAi, long before it became clear that the technology could evolve from a laboratory tool into the basis for therapeutically important medicines. The new role took Sepp-Lorenzino and Merck out of their comfort zones.
“I left a really cozy job doing what Merck was best at to try something completely new. It was scary, but I think it goes with my personality to try new things,” Sepp-Lorenzino said.
That personality type has led Sepp-Lorenzino to take a lattice approach to her career, moving laterally into new areas rather than staying on the small molecule ladder. While acknowledging that such moves can be “scary and uncertain and incredibly difficult,” Sepp-Lorenzino thinks they provide greater growth opportunities than sticking to the same field.
Sepp-Lorenzino’s willingness to take on these opportunities also reflects her support network, which features family, friends and colleagues. These people, who include a group of female colleagues who met at Merck called the “Wonder Women,” are there to offer support in the hard times, celebrate the successes and provide honest feedback throughout.
"Being able to provide honest, actionable feedback entails hard conversations. But if you surround yourself with people who will do that for you, that is a great gift,” Sepp-Lorenzino said.