From Bench to Bedside: Witnessing Firsthand the Power of Science to Transform Lives

by Jahda Hill, PhD

Although trained as a basic scientist, I made the decision four years ago to leave the comforts of the lab for the unknowns of agency life. The long days spent dissecting fruit flies and peering into a fancy fluorescent microscope in the dark are long gone now. They’ve been replaced with creative reviews, literature searches, med/legal/regulatory calls, and primary market research. 

As soon as I made the transition to the agency, my intellectual focus shifted from the molecular level to the physiologic level as I became immersed in my clients’ brands—diving deep into diverse disease states and becoming engrossed in clinical trial data. Then one day, basic science made an exciting return to my everyday life when we started working on the launch of a novel therapeutic class based on RNA interference (RNAi), a scientific approach that I used throughout my graduate and postdoctoral training. 

RNAi is a process that our cells use to regulate the expression of genes. The pathway was discovered in the 1990s through work in nematodes and plants and is commonly used by researchers to disrupt gene expression in various organisms. I myself used RNAi in my graduate and postdoctoral research work in fruit flies.

The scientists behind the discovery of RNAi won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2006. Now, a little more than a decade later, we are on the threshold of the first FDA approval of a drug that harnesses this pathway to disrupt production of a disease-causing protein in a progressive and debilitating rare disease.

Over the past 12 months, I have seen where my basic science training has directly intersected with my marketing career. Working closely with my creative and account management colleagues, we have come to understand the complex cellular process of RNAi and gain an appreciation for the elegance of this approach in the treatment of diseases. 

In theory, RNAi therapeutics can be designed to target any disease-causing gene, creating new possibilities for treating conditions that have been previously untreatable by traditional approaches. Currently, RNAi therapeutics are under investigation for the treatment of a range of conditions, including hereditary diseases, cancers, and metabolic diseases.

I also find it incredibly fulfilling that my academic work can now be leveraged to provide even better service to our clients. During the past months, we’ve read dozens of publications and have collaborated with our clients in several workshops to understand exactly how to communicate the benefits of this science. Now, with a solid foundation of knowledge and an enthusiasm for this groundbreaking approach, we are tasked with creating materials to educate healthcare professionals and patients on the features of this novel class of medicines and to highlight the benefits of an RNAi therapeutic approach to treating disease.

These days, when I stand in front of my clients and colleagues discussing the intricacies of RNAi, I am often transported back to the lab, where I see myself poring over DNA sequences on my computer and designing experiments at the bench. At the time, I would never have imagined that I’d be where I am now—working hard on the launch of the potential first RNAi therapeutic for the treatment of a serious, life-threatening rare disease.