People on the Move

Women in Technology Profile: Maree Smith

This Q&A with Women in Technology (WiT) Queensland Award winner, Maree Smith is from a recent WiT newsletter interview.

Professor Maree Smith is executive director and co-founder of TetraQ, the commercial arm of the Centre for Integrated Pre-Clinical Drug Development at the University of Queensland (UQ).

Prof. Smith is the recipient of the 2008 WiT Biotech Outstanding Achievement Award.

Maree Smith, TetraQ.

What impact will this award have on you personally and professionally?


Personally, I feel very honoured and privileged to receive this professional recognition from my WiT peers and colleagues.

Professionally, the award will undoubtedly raise my profile and that of TetraQ, the commercial arm of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development UQ. This award also has the potential to bring increased recognition to the biotechnology industry in Queensland and Australia and contribute to a better appreciation of the long timelines and hence commitment required to discover and develop new medicines that are suitably safe and effective for the improved treatment of human disease.

What led you to work in the biotechnology industry?

I wanted to contribute to the development of new medicines for the treatment of pain as a means of improving pain relief in patients but with reduced side-effects.

Who/what has been your strongest professional influence?

Prof. Tess Cramond has been a strong professional influence. I did a postdoc with Prof, Cramond in the late 1980s as a means of entering the pain field as a young researcher and to gain an appreciation of the unmet clinical needs in the pain field. I am in awe of her professional achievements including establishment of the first Multidisciplinary Pain Centre in Australia 41 years ago at the RoyalBrisbaneHospital, the training of several generations of anaesthetists and pain specialists in Australia as well as introducing CPR to the Surf Life Saving Movement of Australia.

Have you encountered a particularly valuable mentor along the way? What did they do for you?

Prof. Mervyn Eadie introduced me to Prof. Tess Cramond and she introduced me to the field of pain and pain management when I was a young postdoctoral fellow in her laboratory 20 years ago.

Is there a specific professional achievement that you are the most proud of?

Successful supervision of more than 40 PhD, Research Masters and Honours students.

Discovering the intellectual property that led to the formation of two UQ spin-out companies, viz QRx Pharm Pty Ltd which raised $50million when it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in May 2007 and Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, both of which are commercialising my new pain medicine discoveries.

Establishment of TetraQ, Australia's first integrated preclinical drug development organisation, with my three co-founders, Profs Dickinson, Toth and Minchin in May 2005 as the first provider of integrated preclinical drug development services to the biotechnology industry in Australia.

If you were to pass on one lesson to other women seeking a long-term career in your industry what would it be?

Focus on being the best that you can be and have a ‘can-do' attitude; discern and follow your own path; don't be too hung up on ‘the' career plan; allow things to evolve as circumstances change and opportunities will arise. Ask what you can contribute rather than being focused on what you can get in the short term. Opportunities come to those who are seen as contributors rather than being driven by self-interest alone.

The use of technology has evolved over they past 20 years, have you noticed any significant changes to the industry and for women? If so, please provide an example.

Over the past 20 years in the biotechnology industry, introduction of new technology has changed the ways that things are done with many previously laborious laboratory tasks now able to be done in a fully-automated manner, the footprint of many items of equipment having shrunk dramatically and the power of personal computers has increased exponentially. The wide availability of high speed broadband internet has revolutionised the way that people work making it easier for women who work long hours to do so at home rather than in the workplace so they remain in contact with their families at nights and on weekends whilst still being able to progress important tasks/projects.

In general, is there anything you would like to see introduced to encourage biotechnology careers for women?

To encourage women to undertake careers in biotechnology, educational/promotional materials targeted to teachers and career counselors in schools are needed as many of them are unaware of the diversity of potential careers available in the biotechnology industry spanning agriculture, devices, diagnostics and pharmaceuticals.

Re-entry fellowships for women who have temporarily left the workplace due to family responsibilities; financial support to biotechnology companies to take interns during the university summer vacation; a biotech version of ‘CSI' for promoting biotechnology as an exciting and rewarding career option; availability of readily accessible childcare for women with young children.

What technology have you used lately that impressed you?

High resolution non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging at the Centre for Magnetic Resonance at The University of Queensland.

What qualities do you think women possess that make them good leaders and entrepreneurs?

Ability to multiplex and progress multiple complex tasks concurrently; can-do attitude and ability to think laterally; empathy and caring

Where do you think you will be in five years time?

Leading the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development incorporating TetraQ, our commercial arm, which will have grown considerably to become recognised in the Asia Pacific as the premier organization of its type in the region.




The following additional information is taken from the original Mere Mortal article:

TetraQ undertakes contract preclinical R&D studies for a range of biopharmaceutical clients. TetraQ commenced operations in May 2005. Assistance was provided in the form of $8.1M in investment funds from the Queensland Government's Smart State Research Facilities Fund, and seed capital from UQ. Under Maree's stewardship, TetraQ has grown to an organisation with approximately 30 staff and over 45 clients around Australia.

Maree's zigzag path to establishing a biotechnology services business is typical of many biotech careers. Maree followed up a first degree in Pharmacy at UQ with Honours, and then a PhD in Clinical Pharmacokinetics and Drug Metabolism in the Department of Medicine of UQ at the Royal Brisbane Hospital (RBH). Maree's PhD thesis was a particularly exciting piece of work which studied the impact of pregnancy on the way the body handled the drug, propranolol, used to treat hypertension in pregnancy. The results revealed that changes in its metabolism from the 1st to the 3rd trimester of pregnancy could explain the larger doses required clinically to maintain good blood pressure control.

She believes that the mentors and role models she had during these years provided crucial guiding advice. Mr Bill Harris, whose 3rd year lectures in the undergraduate Pharmacy Program were the inspiration to enter the Honours program, as well as Prof Mervyn Eadie, Prof Wayne Hooper, Prof Tess Cramond and Dr Ian Livingstone, all researchers and practitioners at the RBWH.

After further research in Pharmacokinetics, Maree changed fields and undertook a postdoc in pain management with Prof Tess Cramond (1988-mid-1989), Director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Centre at RBWH and then in mid-1989, she then took up a full-time lectureship in the Department (now School) of Pharmacy at UQ. Her research in the pain field together with her teaching and service achievements led to her promotion to a Professorship in Dec 2003. She is an inventor of two pain medicines that are currently being commercialised one by QRx Pharma Ltd, a UQ spin-out company that recently raised A$50M when it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, and the other by Spinifex Pharmaceuticals. While now in a management role, Maree remains engaged in research through her involvement in contract R&D studies at TetraQ, the commercialisation of her own inventions, supervision of PhD students and through research projects targeted to bringing innovation into the preclinical drug development toolkit.

Maree is a self confessed high achiever and is passionate about the work she does. "The opportunity to make a difference and play a small part in contributing to the building of an on-shore biotechnology industry keeps my passion alive", she said.

Maree has also contributed to society via voluntary positions such as being on the National Board of Directors of the Australian Society for Medical Research for four years in the early 1990's and involvement at State level in the ASMR for about a decade. She is currently the Chair of the PhD scholarships committee and a member of the Scientific Program Committee for the Australian Pain Society, and a member of the Queensland Government's Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals Industry Forum. She is an active and enthusiastic member of WiT | Biotech appreciating the opportunity to become a mentor to new up and coming biotechies.

Maree believes that she has managed to achieve an acceptable balance between work and other commitments and is the proud parent of two well adjusted young adults. Maree stresses that she is not a superwoman. She says "In hindsight, the key was in having a nanny who picked the children up from school, ran them around to after school activities and prepared dinner, so that when my husband and I got home from work we could share quality time with them. For example, I recall that they loved the nightly bedtime stories. I was always home for birthdays and attended most Saturday morning soccer matches and Friday nights at swimming club. I also enjoyed my stints on the parent reading roster in Grade 1 and attending most school sporting carnivals, concerts, etc". ♦

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