Abzena's VP of science and technology - what made her choose biochemistry over fashion design?

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Abzena
© Abzena

Related tags Drug development Research Drug discovery Data management Pharmacology

Petra Dieterich has 30 years of experience in the drug development field, with a focus on supporting CMC activities.

She has held leadership positions in project management, technical operations, and business development.  Working in the CRO and CDMO environment she has led projects for customers across the globe, helping them to achieve their goals in clinical trials and low-volume commercial manufacture. Petra holds a D. Phil in synthetic organic chemistry and an MBA from Imperial College London.

Could you give us an overview of your work?

I’m a senior VP of science and technology in Abzena, a global CDMO that provides research, development, and manufacturing services for sponsor companies with biopharmaceuticals across the globe. My team works with both internal and external customers helping them scope, develop, and execute projects in the search for new biotherapeutics.

When did you realize you were interested in science - as a young child, teen, or older?

As a child, I loved creative play, drawing, painting, crafting, and logic problems. Later on at school, Chemistry, Biology, and Art were my favourite subjects.  Especially in chemistry, I loved the idea of studying something to understand it and then using that knowledge to make new molecules.  If I hadn’t studied Biochemistry, I would have wanted to be a fashion designer. 

Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

I was born and grew up in Hamburg, Germany.  My family came to London in the 1970s and I went to a German school to learn English.  Cultural differences between the UK and mainland Europe were still quite different then but we settled in Southampton and I later went to University in Brighton, studied for a D.Phil, and found a job at a Pharmaceutical company.  I went back to school in 2016 to study for an MBA at Imperial College in London, this time finding a much more diverse cultural environment. 

What challenges did you face - as a woman or otherwise - along the way and what is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

I’m now in the fourth decade of my career and it’s the first time that my boss is a woman and she is great! I’ve had some very good bosses from whom I’ve learned a tremendous amount and the lack of female role models has made me develop a style that works for me.  It just would have been nice to learn from and share more with other women.

What ignites your passion in your current role?

Doing innovative scientific work in a business environment is a challenge that I love.  It allows me to challenge the teams that I work with to see what can be achieved by working creatively.  In the drug development business, there is the added motivation to develop novel medicines for hitherto untreated conditions, such as rare diseases, that can improve life.

What is your current work ethos/style?

Clear head, warm heart, strong hand.

Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

Be curious, read and learn as much as you can and work hard.  The rest will come.

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