Chief Scientific Offer, Juvenescence (November 2023)

Gillian (Gill) Dines is a highly accomplished pharmaceutical executive with 30+ years of experience in research, development, approval, and commercialization of new medicines in both “Big Pharma” and as an entrepreneur in the Biotech environment. She has led the successful development and global approval of medicines and devices in a number of therapeutic areas including neuroscience, oncology, immunology, respiratory and rare diseases.

Before joining Juvenescence she was Senior Vice President and Head of Research and Early Development at Jazz Pharmaceuticals. In this role she led integration and organisational restructuring to build a novel pipeline and capabilities in R&D following the acquisition of GW Pharma where she was Head of R&D Operations. Before her role in GW/Jazz, Gill was VP Head of New Medicines Strategic Planning at UCB and the UK Site Head. In 2008 she was Company Director and Chief Development Officer at RespiVert, a UK based Biotech that delivered clinical phase assets from start-up to acquisition by Centocor Ortho-Biotech (Janssen Pharmaceuticals). Her previous experience covers various leadership roles across all phases of pharmaceutical R&D over a 20-year tenure at GSK.

Key milestones in your career journey to date?

  • I am immensely proud of having been involved in developing and gaining approval for ten medicines in different therapy areas; one of which I use on a daily basis (Advair).
  • My career path has been pretty organic and opportunistic. Following a Masters in Toxicology (my A level grades precluded medical school) I joined GSK. The team effort involved in developing drugs became compelling and I learnt early on that my expertise was around leading teams of people and project leadership. And the opportunities that arose over the next 20 years have created a broad network which remain with me today.
  • Following 20 years at GSK, I made the leap into biotech with Respivert, which propelled my career, and from which I have never looked back. Our remit was to discover new medicines in the respiratory area and take then to the early clinic and we were ultimately acquired by J&J.
  • The opportunity to join UCB in 2015, as the only female on the leadership team of 15, taught me to challenge group think. My legacy was embedding project team and matrix working and ultimately it resulted in approval this year of a new medicine in novel diseases for UCB.
  • Missing the fluidity of an early-stage development company, joining GW Pharma in 2020 enabled me to get back to my roots and making medicines. Their acquisition by Jazz in 2021 expanded opportunities to build an early pipeline and establish early drug development capabilities.
  • Having taken a much-needed sabbatical over the summer in 2023, I used the time to think about what next, having never actively looked for a job in the last 30+ years. Feeling refreshed and clearer, I have taken on my first Board role with Newron; seeking strategic drug development expertise as well as a different style to complement the Board.
  • After exploring various executive roles, I have joined Juvenesence as their CSO, attracted by their culture, vision and ambition. The ageing population is growing, but not in good health; so impacting the health span of the population will have major societal impact.

Who has had the greatest influence over your career?

  • My parents always encouraged me to follow my passion; and instilled in me that anything was possible.
  • Garth Rappaport, my boss at GSK and then at Respivert, acted as a tough, insightful sounding board; and instilled the importance of focus, speed and delivery.

What top three attributes make an outstanding and relevant leader in today’s world?

  • Authenticity is the key to effective leadership; communicating the vision, setting realistic goals and taking the team with you.
  • Successful leaders have well-honed soft skills; and use these to enable others to succeed.

Describe your approach to identifying and developing high performing teams

  • Understanding the team, playing to their strengths, and then enabling them to explore and recommend solutions.
  • Fostering team spirit through collaboration and creating effective cross team working.

How does your company meet the challenges of leading a multi-generational workforce?

  • Creative mentoring initiatives, virtually and face to face, provide light touch guidance and support across the generations.
  • Post Covid, the challenge for many companies is how they bring together multi-generational teams and build core capabilities which are challenged by diverse location and an environment of greater outsourcing. Experience is gained by success and failure and we need to build the experience of the younger generations by allowing them to take ownership and give them space to learn – whilst being supportive in the background.

Tell me something about your company that you would like to share with the PIR community

  • Juvenescence has the opportunity to change the impact of the ageing process. Ageing is a key risk factor for many chronic diseases and, as the global population ages, the societal impact is becoming  very significant with the increasing cost of health care. Our aim is to increase health span – the time an individual spends in health and delay the impact of diseases associated with ageing – treat early and delay the progression with the ultimate aim of prevention.

How has your company created a more diverse culture in recent years; and what do future challenges look like?

  • I’ve seen huge progress in diversity during my career in terms of gender and race – but the fact we talk about it means were not there yet! For me diversity of style remains a big opportunity for companies to embrace and create a truly diverse culture. Often we recruit in our own likeness and it’s about identifying the right person for a role, rather than bowing to the need to tick the usual profile boxes.
  • More recently, I’ve seen impact on great applicants getting overlooked whilst companies endeavour to apply their diversity agenda.

The provision of flexible working and employee wellness support are increasingly important in the retention and attraction of key talent. How are these being managed by your company whilst ensuring that productivity targets are met?

  • I am a firm advocate for flexible working and increasingly I see evolution in the way we work bringing opportunity. Many roles in pharma require some in person presence. For example, research and manufacturing, but by allowing flexibility around the core components I have seen efficiency in processes – focusing on core critical needs and as a consequence stopping non-productive aspects.
  • Importantly it’s how companies create a sense of community and belonging, and manage time together, to deliver business objectives; and generally hybrid working provides the best outcome.
  • Creative ways of communicating, to reduce the need to travel remain important; as we all strive to maintain the appropriate level of work/life balance.

What will be the biggest technological transformation in your sector over the next 5 years?

  • Real use of AI technology to allow us to interrogate huge volumes of biological data is the key. We have a unique opportunity in the UK, with a centralised NHS, where the volume of data is significant; interrogating this already available data could bring very significant insights into disease treatment and prevention.
  • The current challenge is how to get systems that align across the NHS and industry so that data is assimilated to a common standard and accessible in a safe way to be interrogated. Of course you then need to ask the right questions.

What is your hidden talent or something that might surprise others about you?

  • I am inherently musical which is a great balance to the scientific and commercial world. I used to play trombone in a brass band and now I love to sing in a rock choir.

What advice would you give your 23-year old self?

  • You don’t need to know all the answers and you never will.
  • It is never too soon to learn the art of networking; working hard alone is not enough. Contacts, contacts, contacts!

Words of Wisdom?

  • Best Advice I was given:
    • Take every opportunity that comes your way and don’t overthink the decision.
  • Advice I’d give:
    • Be authentic and, once you commit, follow this through.
    • Always value friends and family over a job – your children are small for such a short time.
  • What I wish I’d known:
    • The path to get what you want is not necessarily the one you think it is.