Author: Madison Wiseman
My latest Women in Science interview takes me to Camilla Foged, a vaccine design and delivery expert, professor, and head to a leading research group in innovative and high-quality nanomedicine formulations. Prof. Foged is also the Specialty Chief Editor of Frontiers in Drug Delivery and is a prominent figure in dissemination and development of the ever-evolving vaccine delivery space. We discuss the path Camilla took to become a leading expert in her field, as well as the importance of maintaining integrity while navigating the critical, and often male-dominated, discipline of drug delivery.
Finding your field
“It was a new field for me but I realized that I found it very interesting: the interplay between nanoparticle design and the immune system.”
With such an impressive resume, I was keen to hear from Camilla how she settled on the field of drug delivery.
“It was a little by coincidence,” she explains.
Her initial PhD choice was scrapped, following some reorganizations and discontinued projects, and was instead offered a position working in the delivery of vaccines. With a strong passion for interdisciplinary research, Camilla enjoyed combining biochemistry, pharmaceutics, and molecular biology, thus continuing a path in the field of advanced drug delivery during her post-doc.
“It really makes a difference, these vaccines, it’s very meaningful to me to do these things.“
Camilla describes that sRNA delivery was a ‘hot’ field during her post-doc, and that the subject has seen powerful drug development during her career.
“It’s super exciting to follow that field” she says, also highlighting her involvement in mRNA vaccines since 2018 as ‘the most exciting period of [her] career.’
Challenges old and new
“We have solved a lot of challenges already,” Camilla tells me, emphasizing the huge progress of the field. “But the subject is not without its trials. There are a lot of challenges in tissue or cell-specific delivery. We know how to deliver things to the easy organs like the liver and local delivery and so on, but other tissues and organs delivery can be challenging.”
“How do we design vaccines that give a longer duration? How do we make universal vaccines so we don’t have to worry about new variants? How do we protect against transmission of virus?”
After the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 and the subsequent vaccine roll-outs, challenges in the field of vaccine delivery took on new significance. As a leading expert in Denmark, Camilla describes how she was heavily involved with disseminating information on vaccine technologies to the public, as well as having a direct involvement with local vaccine roll-out.
“It’s super exciting to follow how decisions are made, to follow the field and give vaccines so I’m more involved in the use of vaccines in society now.”
Champion open and honest science
“It is important that we, as scientists, disseminate our own knowledge and make our knowledge available to society.”
Camilla explains that dissemination of information is crucial in bringing the public onboard with vaccine roll-outs, as otherwise we have ‘misinformation and anti-vax people’. Although Denmark has not seen a large problem with the public uptake of vaccines, she explains that maintaining integrity as scientists and informing the population with scientific credibility means a lot. It is also Camilla’s experience that people in Denmark show a lot of positive interest in the vaccine and the related research. Responding to interest in an “honest and transparent way” is crucial.
As the technologies become more complex, making information accessible and understandable to the public is vital.
“I focus a lot on ‘people should trust what I’m saying’,” Camilla notes.
As experts in their field, scientists should weigh in on political decisions and fight those that are not well-informed.
“If it’s against the science, we have an obligation to speak against that,” she reaffirms.
Inspiration and integrity
“I have been inspired by a lot of different people. I looked at how they were doing, how their career developed, and then based on that I found my own way.”
“I would not say that I had one mentor,” says Camilla. “I had persons who have supported me, different persons, at different times in my career, and I appreciate their support very much.”
It’s no surprise that huge success in her field has come from Camilla’s observation and support of various colleagues and authorities over time. What is clear is that she has consistently prioritized her integrity in each step of her career.
When I ask what advice Camilla has for those aspiring to follow her path, she is quick to champion individuality and finding your own way.
“That’s not easy so identify people that can help you find your way,” she explains. “It can be one mentor or it can be different people for different things. I looked at how other people did things and then I picked the things that I found interesting.”
Inspiration is also very important. Some people love traveling, that’s what gives them energy. Not much of a traveler herself, Camilla gets energized by supporting students and contributing to manuscripts or other projects. Positive experiences with management courses have also impacted her career development, giving further opportunity to “get inspired by different people.”
“The power is with the men. I think there is still a long way to go.”
As we discuss her successful career, I wonder if Camilla’s path has diverged from that of her male counterparts.
“It’s very typical that male mentors support male students,” she answers. “I have felt that my male colleagues got more support than I got from my mentors.”
Although Camilla notes the support shown by her male colleagues, it’s interesting to hear that there is gender bias they may not be aware of.
“It’s a problem, for example, a lot of male orientated things like playing golf where women don’t play. Make sure to also make social events where both genders can participate.”
Camilla notes that typically “male values” tend to define the field, adding that you need to be “accepted as part of their community” in order to be included and accepted. It is clear that networking and social events mean a lot.
“I have colleagues here that are very good at inviting me to social events so that I’m also part of the social circle,” Camilla notes. “Unfortunately, the power sits with men and invitations from male colleagues unlock more opportunities than their female counterparts might ordinarily have.”
“You have many challenging things in the job. It’s very important to have good colleagues where you can discuss these things.”
When I ask if these biases have led to any sacrifices on her part, Camilla is confident that she has not changed herself to fit these boundaries. Instead, she reinforces how she has focused on defining her own values and leadership style over the years, rather than copying others.
“I use my male colleagues a lot for discussing these things,” she states, explaining the importance of seeking advice from colleagues, regardless of gender. “I’m not sure that gender means so much but I have more male colleagues than female colleagues and they are very happy to give feedback or listen to my challenges which is important.”
Collaboration and diverse opinions are the name of the game here, and a balance of men and women in the field will undoubtedly supplement this.
Frontiers is a signatory of the United Nations Publishers COMPACT. This interview has been published in support of United Nations Sustainable Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
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