Dr Rana Lonnen is an accomplished scientist currently undertaking an Executive MBA. Her passion for partnering innovative business with science drew her to study at Imperial College Business School and sees her access to valuable networks and insightful professionals which are imperative to her next business ventures. We met with Rana to discuss her studies, research and how she manages her schedule. Originally from Lebanon, Rana relocated to England after receiving a scholarship to study at the University of Leicester where she completed her PhD in Molecular Biology. In 2007, Rana was naturalised as British citizen and describes this as one of the “proudest moments of her life.”
As a scientist by training, you could question why she has traded her lab coat for lecture theatres and this is where her passion for improvement becomes evident “my interest is in how we can apply science into a business context and develop an innovative product,” says Rana.
In time at the University of Leicester, Dr Lonnen discovered a molecule that is a potential therapy for hospital patients suffering from pneumonia. After studying the characteristics of the pneumonia-fighting molecule, Rana successfully raised funds from the Wellcome Trust allowing her to take the next steps in preclinical development, which led to the foundation of a start-up. As founder of this venture, she explained: “the start-up aims to conduct trials in humans. We really want to see this molecule work in patients. The company could attract large investments from a pharmaceutical company, who would then take the invention and test it in a larger scale trial.”
Rana’s enthusiasm for partnering scientific research and business is contagious. “There is amazing work in UK universities,” she beamed. “However, experience in the business and science side is imperative for the commercialisation of innovation.” The ability to mix science with business is one of the reasons Rana chose to study at Imperial, stating: “it is inspiring to be part of the Imperial ‘ecosystem’, at the cutting edge of innovation and this is one of the reasons why I chose to do my MBA at Imperial.” In addition to positioning herself in the middle of a research community, choosing to study her masters was a logical next step noting: the commercialisation of science involves at some stage the creation of business ventures and this why I wanted to go back to the lecture theatre, to get equipped with further business tools, refine my understanding of business functions as well as nurture my business networks – for me the MBA is an integral piece to complete the puzzle”.
My interest is in how we can apply science into a business context and develop an innovative product
As a student, scientist, a class representative and business founder, it is a wonder how she fits it all in. “I find when I have more things to do, my time management becomes better” she laughs. “You have to be very strict with yourself. You have to focus. It is all about planning and what you can achieve in that time”. Rana notes that along with giving yourself time to recharge and unwind, a busy schedule is made easier if you enjoy it, “I really love what I do, so I find the time I put in very rewarding.”
From schedules to future visions, our conversation turned to post graduation. Rana is excited for what the future will bring not only for her personal work but for those at the university with an interest in science and medicinal advancements. As an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies turn to academic institutions to seek out new therapeutic treatments to replenish their pipelines. “This is a very exciting time for translational research,” says Rana noting that individuals seeking a similar career path to her, could be leading innovative business ventures at the interface between academia, biotech, investors and large pharmaceuticals.
Based at the Stevenage Biocatalyst Centre Rana is currently Head of Preclinical Development at an innovative biotech that develops novel antibiotics for life threatening infections. Here she is able to work on one of her particular interests – developing antimicrobials to treat infections. “The need for new antibiotics is very urgent with the alarming increase in resistance to antibiotics.”
When we asked what her advice might be to students aspiring to take as similar career path she responded: “Take risks, bring the right people on board, work hard and continue to learn.” Drawing on her own experience, she reflected “When I was researching and found these potential new therapies, there was a very big risk that I would not secure the seed funds to further develop the molecule. At that time I declined another opportunity that secured immediate and guaranteed funds. The latter is not what I aspired to do. Taking a calculated risk paid off. Sometimes you get pulled away and you miss out on the benefits that could come in the future. So take risks. Without taking risks, you can miss opportunities to materialise your ideas into successful ventures.”