Lorraine Chiroiu: Enriching the Future of Australia with Biotech

Biotechnology above all, is serving the global need for better health solutions, and improving our lives – at times in a disruptive way. Biotechnology-powered innovations of this decade have revolutionised healthcare with their capabilities. However, due to the complexity and connectivity involved, people and even governments often remain under-unaware of these vital developments and their value. Committed to the vision of bridging the gap between biotechnology and the benefits it offers, Lorraine Chiroiu, CEO of AusBiotech is advocating for organisations doing business in and with the global life sciences economy to ultimately enable access to technologies. In this way, the lives of Australian citizens are enriched.

Below are the highlights of the interview between Insights Success and Lorraine unveiling her remarkable work, and sharing her thoughts on biotech commercialization, leadership and many more.

Can you give us a brief overview of your background and the evolution of your career towards being a recognized industry leader in biotech? 

While initially aspiring to be a journalist, the strongest themes of my career from the beginning and throughout have been advocate, writer and interpreter.

My first role after graduating from university was improving the portrayal of people with serious mental illness in the media. It involved working with journalists on behalf of the StigmaWatch programme and was both an advocacy role and a way if interpreting and facilitating the experience of people with psychosis for the media and the therefore the broader community.

Fast forward 20 years and as Chief Executive Officer of AusBiotech, I’m still an advocate and interpreter, but now for the development of new biotechnologies that will save, enhance and progress our lives.

Through my ten years of commitment to AusBiotech I have progressed through the organisation, managing many aspects of the business. Joining as the Communication Manager, then Chief Industry Affairs Officer, both focused on policy and communications, before being promoted into the Deputy Chief Executive Officer role in 2016 and Chief Executive Officer in 2018.

In this role I utilize my strengths and capabilities to advocate on the policy issues facing the sector and to lead the AusBiotech team to support the industry’s delivery of technologies that change people’s future. It involves interpreting between many and varied groups, for example conveying the needs of biotech companies to governments, or the commercialization process for a researcher or the promise of a technology for an investor.

Prior to joining AusBiotech, I worked in corporate and public affairs roles for a multinational biopharmaceutical company, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the University of Melbourne and for SANE Australia, a mental health consumer organization.

Pertaining to your leadership experience, how according to you, do the changes in technology utilization, volatility of the market and talent recognition, affect the overall development of any business/organization? 

In my experience, working at the juncture of health delivery, cutting edge science and business is a unique and exciting view. We need one eye on the horizon and the other on adapting what we do and how we do it. AusBiotech members are developing and commercializing new inventions and technologies. The recognition of new trends in technology development has serious implications for regulation, reimbursement and skills attraction and development in Australia. For example, the development of immunotherapies is challenging the way we treat cancers and regulate therapeutic goods. It means we need new skills to work in the companies commercializing these technologies.

What according to you are the vital attributes that a business leader should possess?

  • The tenacity to keep on trying and to deal with uncomfortable situations;
  • the emotional intelligence to collaborate with people and engender their support;
  • Enough humility to know that few achieve success on their own;
  • authenticity about your values and what you believe in;
  • the ability to adapt, as challenge and change are inevitable and more prominent than ever;
  • and a sense of perspective about what is (and isn’t) important.

Considering the necessity of encouraging women to take up leadership positions, in what ways according to you, can this be achieved? 

I believe that ‘calling out’ imbalance is critical. Simply asking the question often changes the outcome; is there a more balanced way we can do this? In the very least, it creates awareness. AusBiotech has recently launched its equity and inclusion statement. We’ve agreed as a team to apply it to our work (conference programmes, committees, etc.) and it’s wonderful to see the way in which it’s becoming ingrained in what we do.

AusBiotech’s Life Sciences Snapshot 2017 showed that in terms of gender equity, while female representation is around or above 50 per cent for research institutes, funding bodies, government & regulatory and support services, females are under-represented in industry, with only 30 per cent of the workforce female. While pharmaceutical companies are leading the away on 45 per cent, across the sector, female representation decreases as seniority levels increase. At director level the imbalance is stark and disturbing.

To address this, role models that show us all what is possible is absolutely key. I will always remember the powerful effect of the first time I identified with a female politician, or the first interaction with a female CEO, or when my best friend was appointed to a global role at WHO. The women who work in life sciences are incredibly inspiring, and seeing more on Boards in the coming years, I’m confident will have an exponentially positive effect.

How you have envisioned your future with regards to your career as well as your personal growth? 

My focus is on the delivery of world-class healthcare, via the commercialization of technologies and the growth of the industry. In recent years, health technologies have enabled us to cure Hepatitis C; to seriously reduce deaths from cancer; to almost eradicate cervical cancer from HBV; for the profoundly deaf to hear; and for HIV to move from a death sentence to a chronic disease. I hope that I can play a pivotal role in technologies reaching patents in future, whatever the capacity.

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