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Dr Maxine Gowen: oration

Read Professor Neil McHugh's oration on Maxine Gowen for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in July 2018.


Dr Maxine Gowen
Dr Maxine Gowen

Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce Dr Maxine Gowen, an eminent scientist and leader in the field of innovative drug discovery. Maxine is the epitome of not just a top-class academic but also a highly accomplished pharmaceutical executive. This is exemplified by the success of the company Trevena, for which she is President and founding Chief Executive Officer, raising over $200M USD in the public market and $120M USD in venture capital to date.

Maxine graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc in Biochemistry and then completed her PhD in Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield. Coming from a Royal Society Fellowship, her relationship with the University of Bath started in 1989, when she secured a GSK-funded Senior Lectureship in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, working in the area of bone and joint disease. Over the next three years, Maxine developed a world-class bone biology research group investigating the role of osteoclasts and osteoblasts relevant to the cause of rheumatic disease.

It is of little wonder that Maxine attracted the interest of the pharmaceutical industry, leaving Bath to join SmithKlineBeecham (now GSK) for the next fifteen years, becoming Vice-President of Drug Discovery for Musculoskeletal Diseases. Through a venture capital subsidiary of GSK, she led investment in innovative companies to the value of $242M USD and pioneered an exciting new approach to externalising drug discovery in big pharma.

However, by now the world of science was not enough for Maxine and she was inspired to expand her horizon by taking a MBA at the renowned Wharton School in Philadelphia. She describes her study as a phenomenally steep learning curve that completely opened her eyes to how the business world works. In 2007, she founded Trevena and attracted a team now numbering over 70 to join her from the security of larger organisations. To quote Maxine ‘I look for people whom I really connect with on a personal level and believe I’ll enjoy seeing every day’

The early success of Trevena was built around a strategy of steady growth of venture capital and a focus on two targeted therapeutic areas that were perfectly suited to a small peptide drug, allowing the company to move quickly through the drug discovery phase into the clinic. The really clever bit was exploitation of ‘biased agonism’ or ‘functional selectivity’ associated with G-protein-coupled receptors. A compound may have downstream effects on several signalling pathways depending on which ligand binds to the receptor, thus potentially increasing beneficial properties while reducing side effects. Currently, Trevena have four active programmes at various stages of drug development, including a next-generation IV analgesic, oliceridine, designated a Breakthrough Therapy by the FDA and under final review decision for market authorisation later this year.

It is no wonder that, throughout her career, Maxine has won several prestigious prizes and accolades, such as the Michael Mason Prize awarded by the British Society of Rheumatology. She has been listed in the top 10 women in Biotech; in 2010, she was selected from over 1200 nominees as the Stevie Women in Business award as Best Executive and, in 2013, she was named the Frank Baldino CEO of the year. She is also a member of several pharmaceutical company Boards of Directors. Finally, together with husband Brian, Maxine is most proud of raising three fine sons and enjoying the company of her two grandchildren. All of these formidable achievements serve as an inspiration to aspiring future scientists and business leaders alike.

Chancellor, I present to you Dr Maxine Gowen, who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

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