Women in Science: Thermo Fisher’s Amy Butler: 'we are living in the golden age of biology'

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Thermo Fisher Scientific
© Thermo Fisher Scientific

Related tags Thermo fisher scientific Thermo fisher cell and gene therapy Cell therapy Gene therapy

With so many advanced therapies on the horizon, the next few years are poised to be one of significant progress for patients with over 2000 cell and gene therapies in active clinical trials globally.

Amy Butler is president of biosciences at Thermo Fisher Scientific. In this role, she leads her team in 'partnering with innovators' to get potentially ground-breaking treatments to patients faster. We discussed her passion for expanding access to new therapies and the importance of collaboration.

BPR: Could you provide an overview of the work you do at Thermo Fisher?

Currently, I lead the biosciences division at Thermo Fisher Scientific where our mission focuses on enabling our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. I’ve been with Thermo Fisher Scientific for 19 years and have had the privilege of working in many different roles, including across areas of science like gene expression profiling and cell biology.

In my current role, I lead a team focused on delivering innovative products and services, supporting customers on the frontlines of scientific discovery and next-generation therapeutics. Our customers are making incredible progress advancing science and medicine to improve lives for people around the globe – we are living in the golden age of biology.

With Thermo Fisher’s breadth of expertise and global scale supporting companies across the life sciences and healthcare continuum, we have the capability – and responsibility – to enable innovation by working closely with our biopharma partners as they develop advanced treatments for patients.

As an example, innovative products developed by my team are being utilized in gene editing, disease modeling, and in the development of cell and gene therapies, which are now starting to enable treatments for some of today’s most challenging diseases. This includes childhood leukemia, neuromuscular diseases and breast cancer.

BPR: What drives your passion to accelerate development and expand access to new therapies?

Many of the advanced therapies being developed today have the potential to not only treat, but also cure, serious diseases like blood-based cancers. As an example, late last year I was struck by an incredible story in The Guardian about a UK teenager named Alyssa who had relapsed T-cell leukemia. Alyssa had undergone all other treatment options, including chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, but there was no improvement. After receiving a gene therapy treatment utilizing base-editing, Alyssa was in remission within 6 months. These are the kinds of stories that inspire me and so many others to show up every day and work together to enable the science that quickly delivers more of these treatments to patients.

BPR: What does the future hold for the advanced therapy space and what is needed to make new treatments accessible?

Cell and gene therapies have the ability to improve human health by offering potential cures and possibly preventing certain diseases altogether. As the pipeline for advanced therapies continues to grow and treatments begin to reach the market, more patients with previously incurable illnesses will have the opportunity to live free of endless hospital visits. This also means possibly reducing the financial and personal constraints that come with having a rare, complex disease, making the implications for patients and their families enormous.

To make this a reality for more patients, it is important that we come together as an industry to advance the development and manufacturing of ground-breaking therapies. To reach the necessary scale, the field must move toward more standardized approaches, including establishing a clear framework and alignment on how therapies should be characterized before being delivered to the patient. There is also a need for increased collaboration and sharing of best practices across the industry to achieve greater manufacturing efficiency and decrease costs, ultimately improving accessibility for patients.

BPR: What is your partnership philosophy, and how is this philosophy present in 2023?

Collaboration is crucial to accelerating and scaling next-generation therapies. This became abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic; cross-industry collaboration helped compress innovation that would normally take many years into only a few months. At Thermo Fisher, we believe in partnering with companies early, so we can work together to overcome any potential roadblocks in their development and manufacturing processes. We collaborate by not only offering early access to our latest solutions, but ongoing guidance from our team of experts.

Scientific discovery is always evolving as new technologies and knowledge become available. It’s important for organizations to maintain a collaborative mindset and focus on identifying quality partnerships that support, complement and accelerate their work. This past spring, we opened our new cell therapy facility at the University of California, San Francisco to help accelerate the development of these treatments by offering manufacturing services and technical support.

I look forward to seeing what innovative collaborations emerge during the remainder of 2023.

BPR: What piqued your interest in pursuing a career in science?

My interest in science began with my fascination with the brain, and its role in shaping who we all are. My curiosity drove me to pursue my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania, which eventually brought me to the Salk Institute as a developmental neuroscientist. I had no idea that I would end up here; if you would have asked me years ago, I would have told you that I was going to become a college professor, given my passion for science, problem solving and teaching. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to translate those interests to my role at Thermo Fisher, where every day I work with brilliant teams, help develop amazing talent, solve complex problems, engage in new science, and build technologies that help our customers do amazing things to improve human health on a global scale.

BPR: Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now? And what value do you see in having a diverse resume?

Over the course of my professional journey, I’ve learned that you don’t have to follow just one career path in life, and what you learn along the way can be transferable to other roles. For example, I’ve been able to translate my love of teaching into a focus on supporting the professional development and success of my teams and my consulting experience taught me how to drive change across large, complex organizations. The valuable lessons I’ve learned along each step of my career have made me a better leader today. 

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