A combination of practical laboratory experience, academic achievement and understanding of oncology and leadership skills made Melissa Barr a perfect fit for Lead Scientist at Inaphaea BioLabs.
In the second instalment of our ‘meet the team’ series for Inaphaea BioLabs, we discover a little more about Melissa Barr, her background and experience and her plans and ambitions for the new laboratory.
How would you describe your education/career history?
I grew up in Derbyshire and was one of the first in my family to attend University. I was a keen student and excelled at the sciences. I was particularly keen on Biology.. fascinated by how the human body works.
I chose to study at Nottingham Trent University and enjoyed every aspect of the course and the community in and around the Uni. While there, I received the Top Student Award from The Royal Society of Biology for highest achiever in the bioscience department.
I’d definitely found my vocation in life. I settled in quickly and totally immersed myself in University life and learning.
I achieved a first class undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and a Research Masters (MRes) in Cancer Biology. My research focused on phenotypic assays – investigating the effect of transglutaminase-2 knock-out in metastatic prostate cancer under hypoxic conditions. My work on spheroids contributed to a paper recently published in Cell Death and Disease. The work demonstrated that silencing of transglutaminase-2 leads to a reduced propensity for anchorage-independent cell growth, a key marker of tumorigenicity in metastatic prostate cancer cell lines.
At the time of completing my master’s, the pandemic had taken effect and so I went to work for a private COVID testing facility which, among other things, gave me an understanding of GLP regulations and working to extremely tight deadlines. From there, I moved to working at a large CRO as a Senior Scientist.
This suited me because it allowed me to apply my research skillset in a fast-paced environment. The project based work meant I was able to contribute to research over a wide variety of therapeutic areas at different stages within the preclinical drug discovery pipeline. I learned that I really liked not only the research project work but also the operational side.
I became a departmental lead responsible for managing reagents.
What does your role at Inaphaea involve?
My primary role involves collaborating with external clients as well as the internal Valirx team members to deliver pre-clinical drug discovery projects largely in oncology and women’s health. I lead a small team of onsite scientists and, as a start-up, with ever-evolving requirements, I manage all the challenges that come with that.
The recent acquisition of Imagen Therapeutics’ assets and capabilities will see the laboratory facilities and services grow further still so the need to be organised and reactive is a continuing part of the job; all part of being involved with an ambitious and highly motivated organisation.
Which areas of science interest you the most?
Being a biochemist, I’ve always been intrigued by the complexities and diversity associated with cancer. Applying the knowledge learnt within the context of drug development provides the opportunity to drive positive outcomes.
How will you apply your skills to help Inaphaea grow and develop?
Before joining Inaphaea BioLabs, I worked in one of the biggest and most reputable CROs in the UK learning operational requirements, delivering client projects as well as undertaking department lead for reagent management. I’m now able to combine those skills and experience and drive the needs of Inaphaea forward. I also believe that my enthusiasm and communication skills help me to keep my team motivated and on track.
How would you encourage others to follow your lead?
Motivation is key. Having a purpose and being able to positively contribute to something that is so important. That’s what’s driven me. Also, the career path can be incredibly diverse, being able to combine lab work where you’re constantly problem solving and developing techniques, with computer-based work, definitely suits me.
In the end though, it’s incredibly rewarding to think that you can make a difference.
Learn more about Melissa Barr and the rest of the Inaphaea team here.