Professor Ijeoma F. Uchegbu is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience at the UCL School of Pharmacy and teaches students how to become pharmacists. She does research on pharmaceutical polymers, working on molecules that she and her group have designed and synthesised. She is also the Chief Scientific Officer for Nanomerics Ltd., a UCL spin out company. You can catch Ijeoma on her soapbox on the 27th of May in London, where she’ll give a talk called: “Tiny particles that go places”
SS: How did you get your current position?
IU: I came into science simply because after training as a pharmacist I wanted something a little bit more challenging to do. I thought that being a researcher would be a great place to start. As I did my pharmacy degree at Nigeria’s University of Benin, I did give research a try in Nigeria, but the infrastructure difficulties in the eighties made this virtually impossible. I came back to the UK, having emigrated 17 years earlier from the UK to Nigeria and started looking around for opportunities. At the time I was a single mum with three young children and so doing a PhD was not really a natural fit with the all the other delights that having children brings. I quickly settled into a routine with my PhD at the London School of Pharmacy, working under the expert guidance of the twinkly eyed Sandy Florence. And boy was he supportive. Those times are a blurred memory of rushing around London picking up children, going to Parents’ evenings, begging child care favours off of my siblings, and generally fitting in the cooking and cleaning around my experiments. A busy three years passed quickly and I was finally done, doctorate in hand and totally addicted to science.
I did a few years postdocing around the School of Pharmacy and then miraculously got a lectureship position in Glasgow and we were on the move again. Our numbers had now swelled from four to five as my partner Andreas joined us on our Scottish adventure.
We spent nine happy years in Glasgow and for the first six years, I worked my way up from junior lecturer to Professor of Drug Delivery. Strathclyde University was a wonderful place to work as my investigation into polymeric vesicles and self assemblies was allowed room to grow and I followed my curiosities with zero inhibition. Colleagues were supportive, Glaswegians terribly friendly and despite the near constant rainfall, we grew rocket in the garden. We also grew as a family with our youngest making an appearance 2 years after we arrived in Glasgow. Oh and before we had our youngest, we eloped to Las Vegas with our children and got married. And then there were six.
Eventually the bright lights of the very best city in the world beckoned and we were back down again. Having shed a few children to their own independent lives, we could afford to move to the expensive South. We downsized from a six bedroom house and a garden that was just on the wrong side of manageable (there was a bit at the back that never got a look in) to a three bedroom semi with a pocket handkerchief of a backyard. We swapped a 6 mile jog home (when training for races) for a sweaty commute with universally angry train passengers. Oh but we love London so much it really does not matter.
A few years at the London School of Pharmacy and then I ended up at UCL. UCL is a lovely place to work and the multi-faculty nature of the place means there is always an expert only a short walk away.
SS: How did you come to set up your own commercial company?
IU: When we got to London we set to thinking about what we would like to do next and hey presto Nanomerics Ltd. was born. How else would we commercialise these drug delivery polymers, but through our own company and that is exactly what we are doing. Nanomerics is developing new drug products and recently licensed our lead product, NM133 eye drops, to Iacta Pharmaceuticals, a company based in California. Our aim with Nanomerics is to create medicines that quite simply help patients feel and get better.
SS: What advice would you give to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in science?
IU: If I could live my professional life all over again, I would tell my younger self to: work on what you are interested in and ignore all barriers, as they are there for a reason – to be broken.
SS: How are you feeling about your upcoming talk at Soapbox Science London?
IU: I am looking forward to my Soapbox Science session because I am at heart a show off and what better way to do this but on the South Bank in the month of May. To be honest I am bricking it, as they say, but I will try hard not to let that show. Come on over and watch.