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Biology Discovery Leader: Laurens Kruidenier


Dr Laurens Kruidenier

Current job

Biology Discovery Leader at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

Length of career

20 years

Key quote

“I have always felt as though I’ve had to keep my options open. It’s nice to feel I’ve got to a point where I am able to close some doors. This has helped me to focus on what I want to do.”

Career in brief

After a master’s in medical biology at Utrecht University in my home country of The Netherlands, I was required to do National Service with the army. As a conscientious objector, I undertook a research assistant role with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. This helped me to realise that I loved working in research so I spent a while scanning newspapers for PhD positions. After a few unsuccessful interviews, I began a five-year PhD investigating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), in particular, Crohn’s disease.

I was 32 when I had completed my PhD and finally felt that my career was about to start. I was keen to work abroad and thanks to the contacts I had made during my PhD and my supervisor’s encouragement, I approached a well-known mucosal immunology group at Queen Mary College, University of London. I spent the next five years working there as both a postdoc and a part-time lecturer.

Then I reached another crossroads. I had never really considered industry before as a career but my supervisor sat on a scientific board at GSK and he suggested that I apply for a vacancy as a Principal Scientist. When I got the job I felt like I had the best of both worlds. There is so much resource and expertise in industry and it is a very collaborative environment; I could keep my ties with academia by setting up industry/academia partnerships.

GSK then underwent a reorganisation and I was asked to work on epigenetics ― I had to look it up! That was when I realised that I was the type of person who could quickly become interested in new topics. During my time at GSK, I have become a lot more ambitious. I think it’s partly being exposed to lots of areas of research and parts of the drug discovery process and recognising their opportunities.

I spend my days

I lead a group of eight scientists working on the identification, selection and optimisation phases of a new type of small molecule drug development in cancer, inflammation, and infectious and metabolic diseases. My team has varying degrees of experience and includes students so there are different needs in terms of management and mentoring. I also matrix manage ― running projects with other groups. As part of the leadership team, I work closely with the head of chemistry to develop strategic direction and I’m also a peer reviewer for internal and external research programmes. I spend some time in the lab, though not nearly as much time as I used to… Perhaps two weeks a year.

Career highlights

Getting my first Nature paper published is definitely up there.

And my postdoc interview… I felt that my career was really starting then. Joining GSK was also a big highlight. I wanted to do something really significant and tangible for patients that was a bit further down the line than academia.

Skills I need to do my job

It’s not about the technical skills, which you can always learn (or borrow from someone else!). It’s conveying energy and getting across your passion and commitment to others so that they become as enthusiastic as you about your idea or area of research.

I am inspired by

My parents. My dad was a teacher and by way of example, showed me how to design a life around helping others. I considered studying medicine, but I felt that was a very individual way of helping ― by going into medical research, I am able to help masses of people at once.

Words of wisdom

Talk about your ambitions and desires with others. By being open and honest about what you want to do, you might find yourself being presented with opportunities that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Be bold and contact people in the areas of research in which you wish to work. People are often more than happy to talk about their work! 

Next steps

I have just accepted a Scientific Director position at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in the US, starting in early 2015. I will be going back to my roots of IBD and Crohn’s disease, and will have a great deal of say in how and where Takeda will take this area of research. So I feel as though this is a culmination of everything I have done and learnt over the years.

Further information

LinkedIn profile

MRC working with Industry

Association of Pharmaceutical Industries: Careers within industry

Careers in science based industries

The BioIndustry Association

Crossing the great divide: moving between academia and industry

Correct as of: March 2015