Q&A with: Daisy Robinton, PhD, Director of Women's Health, Cambrian Biopharma & Co-Founder/CEO of Oviva Therapeutics
At Cambrian, Daisy Robinton is developing a new company around women’s health, working on therapeutics that address the effects of aging on the ovaries. She recently left Harvard University where she was a post doc researching mechanisms of neurodevelopment with a focus on the resident immune cells of the brain. She also is a science communicator, frequently teaching and speaking. Daisy completed her PhD at Harvard University working on stem cells and developmental biology under the mentorship of Dr. George Q. Daley.
Why are you at Cambrian?
During a catch up with Cambrian’s CEO, James Peyer, last year, he told me that Cambrian was looking for a Scientist-in-Residence. After hearing what I was up to, James said that what I was doing was exactly what they were looking for, and that I could do it under the auspices of Cambrian, with the goal and vision of forming a hypothesis around interesting work that I identified that could be translatable to the clinic. At the time I wasn't even looking for a job, but the opportunity was intriguing.
What excited you about working for the company?
Cambrian is structured to support someone like me—I'm a scientist, writer and communicator—even though I haven’t worked in biotech or built a business before. They're able and willing and dedicated to help me and coach me to be able to be functional across all the work streams that I will need to address as I step into a CEO role. This includes clinical and regulatory strategy, IP evaluation, and HR needs. It's a daunting task to develop a new drug and understand what sort of preclinical work needs to be done. What sort of regulatory work needs to be done. What sort of IND-enabling studies are required to put together a package to submit to the FDA.
We have an amazing team of people that are constantly in conversation to support each of these areas of work. We have employees in the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada, here in the US. I feel like I'm at a scientific conference every week during our pipeline meetings where we discuss projects in development and get to hear new cool projects that someone has flagged from places like Baylor, Stanford, Harvard or Cambridge UK.
What is your background?
I am a molecular biologist—I trained at Harvard University for my PhD under George Daley, who is now the Dean of the medical school there—and received my degree in human biology and translational medicine. My graduate work focused on the genetic and cellular underpinnings of cancer and stem cell biology, and throughout my research career I’ve had a keen interest in understanding the overlap between developmental biology and pathological states, and how cell identity shifts over time.
What is your interest in longevity science?
I love that Cambrian is a longevity-focused biotech that’s all about improving health span. This is one reason I got into science in the first place—this question that asks, when you're challenged with a health condition or disease, how can you have a vibrant and resilient life? My motivation is influenced by a number of family experiences with health challenges.
What is your current project focusing on at Cambrian?
I came to James with the idea of moving women's health forward. I started on this journey when I turned 30 and had a curiosity around understanding my own fertility. I went to a fertility clinic for an evaluation and I realized that I know very, very little about my own body, even though I'm a biologist—and also how little is known more broadly about ovarian function, things that influence fertility, menopause, and the like. It really fired me up, as I wondered: why don't we know more? Because there's been a long history of neglect and bias against females in biomedical research, and in clinical trial design, and in the way that we teach medicine and perform healthcare in this country, even how we diagnose patients. There's a growing groundswell around the fact that women have not been included in how we understand, diagnose and treat disease, or in how we understand basic principles of biology.
What differences are you finding between men and women in terms of longevity?
There has always been this question of sex differences, because we know that women live on average six to eight years longer than men. This led me to realize that we don't look at the ovaries very often when we think about longevity. The ovaries are an organ that, when they age, influence many important aspects of a woman’s physiology beyond her reproductive capacity. But more importantly, and more interestingly, ovaries age asynchronously with the rest of the body. So, once you enter menopause, which most women do around age 52, about 70% experience symptoms, and 25% experience debilitating symptoms. It’s estimated that once a woman enters menopause her cellular aging is accelerated by 6%.
How does your advocacy for a stronger focus in biomedicine on women’s health play out at Cambrian?
Cambrian has facilitated me stepping into a role as a woman in science who wants to elevate the field of women’s health, which has not had as much funding, or as much inquiry or attention as it should have. It’s important to increase visibility for women to be included in biomedical research and clinical development in a more robust way. Cambrian is empowering me to achieve that personal mission.
You are also a communicator in science?
Yes, I’ve been very engaged in public communication and science communication, whether it's teaching classes at UCLA and Harvard or speaking at TEDx talks and Arc Fusion events, and a variety of others. I have this keen interest in science moving forward, but also translating science and letting it be alive outside of academic institutions and ivory towers.