Bioanalysis Zone

International Women’s Day: A day in the life of…Surinder Kaur

SurinderSurinder Kaur PhD
Director, ADC Programs & Mass Spectrometry, BioAnalytical Sciences, Genentech (CA, USA)
Dr Surinder Kaur is a Director in BioAnalytical Sciences at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, in South San Francisco, California. She has 20 plus years of biotechnology experience in bioanalysis for a diverse range of large and small molecule drugs, with multiple successful regulatory filings and more than 50 publications and patents. Dr Kaur received her BSc(Hons) degree from Durham University, UK and her PhD degree from Bristol University, UK. and conducted post-doctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1992 Dr Kaur established the mass spectrometry core laboratory at Chiron Corporation to develop analytical methods for large molecule drugs.
In 2004 she joined Genentech to establish a multi-disciplinary ligand binding assay (LBA) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) group with approximately 15 scientists and research associates. The group was formed to design the bioanalytical strategy for novel antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) in nonclinical and clinical development. Dr Kaur’s group is responsible for bioanalytical strategies and assay development and validation for ADCs, including pharmacokinetic assays, immunogenicty assessment and establishing metabolism/catabolism strategies. The group established industry-leading hybrid LBA LC-MS bioanalytical strategies for ADCS and other large molecule drugs. Dr Kaur was a key contributor to the FDA submission for the first FDA-approved ADC for the treatment of HER2+ metastatic breast cancer. She was a cross-functional Pharmacology Team Leader for 10 years for onartuzumab, a large oncology program spanning nonclinical development to pivotal Phase III trials in multiple indications. She is also responsible for a mass spectrometry core facility establishing innovative technology approaches for biotherapeutics development.
 1My alarm goes off…

My alarm goes off at 5:30 am in the morning. I wouldn’t claim to be a morning person by nature, but with traffic in the San Francisco area, I’ve learned to appreciate the joy of very early mornings. I use this time to do a few minutes of daily yoga stretches, while watching the sunrise. This time has now become a very special part of my day – I consider myself lucky to have a view of nature to go along with the yoga. My commute is helped by taking advantage of one of the shuttles that Genentech offers as an alternate commute option for employees. I drive less than 10 minutes from my house to pick up my shuttle. Once on board, I try to use this time just for creative thinking. The spectacular views from the Bay Bridge are breath-taking – even though I see them every day they never fail to inspire.

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2I’m responsible for…

I’m responsible for a group of more than 15 talented, multi-disciplinary scientists and scientific researchers at Genentech. We develop bioanalytical strategies and hybrid immunoaffinity mass spectrometry technologies to enable the development and commercialization of Genentech medicines, such as ADCs. Our diverse expertise enables the characterization of the pharmacokinetic, immunogenic and biotransformation of Genentech biotherapeutics during drug development and throughout the product life cycle. Drug discovery and development is challenging, with many promising molecules failing during clinical trials – I m fortunate that my group has had the privilege of helping take Genentech’s first ADC, targeting the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, from early development all the way through to worldwide regulatory approval.

One of the best things about drug development is that it takes experts from many fields working closely together; for example, biologists, chemists, toxicologists, biostatisticians, physicians, clinical pharmacologists, regulatory, operations, manufacturing, commercial, etc. I had the opportunity to lead a cross-functional pharmacology subteam for a large oncology program for 10 years, and also to sit on the program Life Cycle Team. That was very exciting.

Being part of a science driven company, we value the opportunity to contribute to the scientific community by presenting our work at conferences, publishing and volunteering in professional organizations. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with a local non-profit organization, Pharmaceutical and BioScience Society (PBSS) for over 10 years and have watched it grow into an international organization. It has been rewarding publishing and sharing data from our group at scientific conferences and workshops all over the world. I am enjoying leading a working group in the IQ Consortium, a pharmaceutical and biotechnology association which aims to advance innovation and quality in the biopharmaceutical industry. It is always inspiring to meet scientists from across the world and to be part of a global professional community.

3My typical day…

My typical day involves collaboration with many smart and passionate people. Being part of a translational science organization I get to see what is happening across the breadth of the research and development pipeline. For example, I can go from a meeting in research where scientists are presenting ideas for entirely new drug modalities to a clinical development governance meeting sharing the latest clinical trial data and strategies for how to get new medicines to patients as quickly as possible. Then there are meetings within the BioAnalytical Department where there is an opportunity to delve deeper into bioanalytical data and new technologies. I especially enjoy one-on-one meetings with my direct reports; mentoring and watching talented people grow is such a privilege.

I enjoy being in an environment that is constantly innovating and intense. Genentech also offers a 6-week sabbatical program, for every 6 years that an employee is with the company, where there is an opportunity to take an extended break. I’ve taken two sabbaticals and traveled to incredible places such as Kenya and Eastern Europe – but both times by the end of the sabbatical I was looking forward to getting back to my life in science.

4The best part of my job…

The best part of my job is definitely the people. I’m constantly inspired by the tremendous diversity of the highly talented and passionate people I am surrounded by – across the entire organization. Bringing transformative medicines to patients takes enormous effort from the entire “village” and every role is important. Despite everyone’s efforts, and the best science, drug development is challenging and has a high failure rate. So when there is a success, it is important take a moment to stop and appreciate that this is one of the best rewards of this work. Hearing testimonies directly from patients is very motivating. On a more daily basis, the breath-taking location of the Genentech campus also inspires me. As a nature lover, looking out at the San Francisco Bay and seeing the early morning light dancing on the water and birds swooping down to catch fish, while I have my first cup of morning coffee, starts each day on a wonderful note (and almost makes up for the early alarm call).

5The worst part of my job…

The worst part of my job is finding out that medicines that looked so promising, based on more than a decade of the best science and enormous effort, just didn’t benefit patients in pivotal clinical studies in the way that we’d hoped for.

6After work…

On my way home, I usually go to the gym several times a week. This is a good time to decompress before the evening and clear my head to focus on my family. Time for hobbies always seems to be in short supply, but anything outdoors is usually at the top of my list are hiking, skiing and gardening.

 7I always wanted to be…

As a child I wanted to be an astronaut or make nature documentaries. This probably had something to do with growing up watching the Apollo missions and David Attenborough documentaries, not to mention Star Trek. There was definitely a strong theme of science and technology running through these favorites.


Who is your inspirational hero?

My female hero and inspirational woman was my mother. She made visiting the library at a young age into an exciting adventure and gave me a life long love of books. Although she herself was a homemaker, she somehow made me believe that girls could do anything at all that they wanted. I hope that I have passed on that same unshakable belief to my own daughters.


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