Diversity Case Study: Anna Somuyiwa

Anna is a consultant specialising in European regulatory affairs

How did you get into regulatory affairs?

Having studied Pharmacology with Management at King’s College London, I fell into regulatory affairs almost by accident. During my first ever job in the pharmaceutical industry, as a contract Drug Safety Officer with Roche in Welwyn Garden City, I was quite intrigued at what all the data we were collecting was going to be used for, so I made enquiries and discovered there existed a group of people who put all this together, made sense of it and send it off to government agencies to negotiate marketing terms! In the end I concluded that I would do really well as a regulatory professional.

I got my first regulatory role with Ranbaxy in Ealing, working in the UK team under the leadership of Peter Embley. He inspired me to eventually pursue the Diploma/MSc in Regulatory Affairs with TOPRA. I have experienced many companies since then, however the fact remains that a good regulatory professional can make a huge amount of difference to the companies they work for and to patients. We are important people!


What is your current role/area of work?

I currently work as a consultant specialising in European regulatory affairs. I have found an interesting niche in products for rare diseases; much work needs to be done in this area to help the patients who have difficulty achieving a diagnosis and also face having no treatment for what often are very debilitating, if not life threatening, illnesses. I have been to a few rare disease conferences and have met rare disease patients who struggle through their illnesses with dignity. The very least I can do is contribute towards the global efforts to improve healthcare options for these patients. I do some pro-bono work for Biopontis Alliance for Rare Diseases, a philanthropic organisation which is taking the lead to advance promising science into rare disease therapies in neurology, and brings all stakeholders, including patients and the pharmaceutical industry, together to advance development of orphan medicinal products.

Apart from gaining insight on the science and hurdles in the development of medicines to treat rare diseases, I have learnt the tremendous difference one person can make. Many rare disease organisations are birthed by parents of children affected by rare disease; they have succeeded in putting rare disease high on the agenda of governments, pharmaceutical industries and academic institutions all over the world. BioPontis Alliance is trying to help these patients organisations so that they do not have to reinvent the wheel for every rare disease.


What challenges/opportunities did you face advancing up the career ladder?

The main challenge in my career has been how to go about gaining breadth of experience across different areas within regulatory affairs. I made the decision fairly early on to work independently, which comes with an amount of risk and uncertainty, as well as the opportunity to work with diverse companies, individuals and products. I am glad I took that risk! It has sharpened my networking skills and made me more adaptable and flexible in my approach to assignments. I would not have it any other way.

I used to be so intent on getting to the top as quickly as possible, whereas now I have decided to slow down, enjoy the ride, widen my professional network and learn new things. As a young black woman, I am often the only black person at the conferences I have attended, which makes me quite memorable and greatly aids networking, especially when they discover I was born and bred in Italy and hold an EU passport! It is also highly unlikely that I’ll see someone who looks like me when I go for an interview, and while that can at times be a disadvantage, I focus more on exhibiting my experience, enthusiasm and business acumen to present myself as the best choice of candidate. It usually works! And when it doesn’t, I do not play the race card. I get feedback, where this is possible, or just take it as an additional experience in life. In the words of John Maxwell, the leadership guru, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn – you never lose!

I am part of an organisation called the Savvy Women Circle, aimed primarily at encouraging women, especially those from ethnic minorities, to aspire to greatness through conferences, seminars and online webinars. Girls from my cultural background are usually well educated, but then told in no uncertain terms after finishing university that getting married and having children is everything in life. My career and achievement-driven attitude made for some interesting family dinners and awkward looks from loving relatives and church members, who despaired that their darling Anna would never settle down because she would "put all the men off". I was greatly blessed to find a loving man who empowers me to be everything I can be, and even more. I spend a considerable amount of time encouraging women to aim high in the church I co-pastor with my husband. There is so much greatness within each individual. No-one ought to be held back because of their background.


What does diversity mean to you as a regulatory affairs professional?

To me diversity means everyone has something to bring to the table and a treasure within them waiting to be discovered and exploited to the maximum; I do not believe one should judge the contents of a book by the cover or the title. People and books deserve respect and to be given a chance.

We miss out on really good people when we decide to put them into boxes. Over time, I have learnt that colour, race, sexual orientation, creed, body weight or hair colour do not determine what is in the mind or the heart, so I disregard those and aim to discover the hidden treasure, and hope more and more people do this across the sectors and industry, in the hope we become more diverse.


What tips do you have for other TOPRA members about utilising diversity to improve business performance? How can focusing on diversity impact business outcomes?

The phrase 'thinking outside the box' comes to mind – we must be the change we want to see. For the next project, involve new colleagues you have not worked with before, maybe with a different experience or skillset to what you would normally use. As a manager, give that job or promotion to a different sort of candidate – hire someone with CMC-only experience into a role focused on CTAs! Take a bold step: if you see a project team who all look and sound the same, add some colour! Do something unusual for the next team bonding exercise. The best ideas and performance can come from unlikely sources. Take risks, make a difference, enjoy the process, upset the status quo and leave a legacy!