Dr. Kate E. Broderick of ‘INOVIO’: “Be kind and fair”

Be kind and fair: Historically, people have thought that being kind is not a helpful trait in professional settings; however, you can really bring together your team when you’re courteous and create a positive work environment. As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure […]

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Be kind and fair: Historically, people have thought that being kind is not a helpful trait in professional settings; however, you can really bring together your team when you’re courteous and create a positive work environment.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate E. Broderick, Ph.D.

Dr. Kate Broderick is an accomplished scientist and recognized vaccine expert who leads a diverse team of researchers discovering and developing DNA medicines in her role as INOVIO’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development. Working out of the company’s research labs in San Diego, she is focused on the development and enhanced delivery of a broad range of DNA medicines designed to prevent a range of often deadly infectious diseases and cancers.

Most recently, she is responsible for driving the development of a DNA vaccine for COVID-19. She also led the teams that brought the first in human Lassa fever vaccine into the clinic as well as advanced the development of a DNA vaccine for the MERS virus.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Broderick has authored and co-authored more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, and her team regularly publishes and presents their findings in leading scientific publications and at conferences worldwide. Dr. Broderick has participated by invitation at advisory meetings convened by the World Health Organization to discuss DNA vaccines and their delivery.

She is a co-inventor on multiple patents related to DNA vaccine delivery and has served as a principal investigator on grants, awards, and contracts from leading government agencies and not-for-profit organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Small Business Innovation Research program, and including a 56M dollars award from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

With a keen interest in electroporation device design in the context of transdermal delivery, Dr. Broderick has helped drive the development of novel prototypes and designs of INOVIO’s proprietary smart device CELLECTRA®, which delivers the company’s DNA medicines directly into cells in the body.

Dr. Broderick received her Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and conducted post-doctoral research at the University of California, San Diego. She joined INOVIO in 2006. In 2018, Dr. Broderick was named Business Women of the Year by San Diego Business Journal.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very lucky growing up. My parents were very supportive of my interest in science and helped me throughout my education. I loved life sciences at University and was thrilled to leverage my PhD into studying disease models. I was able to move to the University of California San Diego to perform my postdoctoral studies and after five years in academia was honored to take a position at INOVIO. I have been with the company for 14 years and have loved every minute! Our technology is so revolutionary, and I am constantly excited to go to work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Goodness I have so many! This year, it was so inspirational to represent the company in Geneva at the World Health Organization meeting where COVID-19 was first discussed. It was such a critical time early in the pandemic and an important moment for INOVIO.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were working with pigs, but I had forgotten that those experiments were happening that day and accidently wore high heels to work. Trying to work with a massive pig while running around in high heels was not easy. I never made that mistake again!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Without a doubt, our technology makes INOVIO stand out. I am confident that INOVIO’s technology will change the world. Our DNA medicines platform has the ability to treat and protect people from infectious diseases, HPV-associated diseases and cancers, as well as provide an innovative strategy for monoclonal antibodies. We have been able to build such an exciting technology platform through the dedication of our brilliant staff. I think the fact that the company truly feels like a family helps us all work together towards our exciting goal of helping to improve the health of people and communities around the world by harnessing the power and potential of DNA medicine.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Absolutely — the COVID-19 vaccine program is probably the most important work of my career. 2020 has been an intense year. The organization has been working non-stop, working diligently but safely to get our DNA vaccine candidate through the clinical development process. Although the effort has been exhausting, every day we are reminded of the critical and pressing need for vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We are inspired to push on and have the opportunity to potentially impact people around the world through the use of our DNA vaccine candidate INO-4800.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

It’s a bit sad to me that in 2020 we are still in the position where women as not equally represented in C-suite, professorships and board positions. I think it’s going in the right direction, but it’s slow progress. I am encouraged by states like California, which have instituted laws mandated corporate boards have representation by both men and women. The positive impact of this type of legislation is a move in the right direction.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Women are too often underestimated. I think people’s expectations are still that STEM is a male dominated field when that is just not the case. We (women in STEM) need to be better represented, mentored, and supported in order to reach leadership positions and fulfill our potential.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech? Can you explain what you mean?

The most troublesome myth that I would like to dispel is that people believe a woman cannot be successful. There are many examples of successful women in STEM, and more examples are coming to light every day. We need women to understand that they can be successful in these types of professions, starting with encouraging them to explore careers and opportunities in STEM.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be true to yourself: People can always see when you are not being sincere.

Be kind and fair: Historically, people have thought that being kind is not a helpful trait in professional settings; however, you can really bring together your team when you’re courteous and create a positive work environment.

Be passionate: You will work harder and achieve more when you truly care about what you are dedicating your time towards.

Get to know your team: Once you know them, you can then truly set them up for success. You can identify where they are having challenges and help them with finding solutions.

Challenge yourself: You will enjoy work more if you find yourself being challenged and have the opportunity to learn — even decades down the road.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Active listening is a very undervalued skill. Listening to your team and maintaining a pulse on both the activity and morale of the group is key to success.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Set your team up for success. You can do this by making the goals clear to everyone and to reiterate them on a very regular basis. Additionally, empower team members in areas where they are strong, and allow them to lead. Lastly, set very clear decision-making structures.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have helped me. My mum was a leader in her field at a time when it was unusual for a woman to hold such a position. As such, my sisters and I never questioned that your gender should impact your career and life choices. She made us and many people who had the good fortune to work alongside her believe that anything was possible through hard work.

Additionally, my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 30’s. Although that changed his life hugely for many reasons, he has been massively supportive of my career and our kids. For that, I am and always will be, forever thankful.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a scientist, I hope that the work we all do in the scientific and medical fields allows others to live longer, happier and healthier lives. I truly hope that my contributions, though small, may have a positive impact on people’s health. I also think that by promoting fairness, positivity and enthusiasm, we can all positively impact others.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

When you think of the pressing problems facing humanity right now — racial inequality, climate change, homelessness and displacement, substance abuse disorders, hunger — it can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it feels like the problems are so severe that it would be difficult to make an impact. However, I have found that looking at a micro view rather than a macro view has really helped me. A kind smile and a “hello” can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Kindness is something we all need more of.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” This is a line from the poem Desiderata. I have found that particular text to be very inspiring in so many ways throughout my life. I have it on the wall in my office.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would have said Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but unfortunately that is no longer possible. I am truly inspired by strong women like Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Dolly Parton, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel, who have all made huge and lasting impacts in the world in very positive and inspiring ways. It’s always such a pleasure to spend time with people from whom you can gain inspiration.

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