Abbie Gerard joined the Protas team in May after 11 years working at the University of Liverpool. We find out what motivated her to move from academia into a new not-for-profit.
Tell us about your journey into working in clinical trials.
I was born and raised in Liverpool, and it’s where I live today – with a toddler in tow these days.
My career hasn’t followed a particularly traditional path, but I couldn’t be happier with where it has led me so far. I’ve always been interested in clinical research and I am proud that a few members of my family also work in this area.
After completing my A-levels I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at the cancer trials unit (CTU) based at the University of Liverpool helping with filing and admin.
Over time, I gained a permanent role as a Data Manager for a study on pancreatic cancer being run within the university. I realised pretty much straight away that I wanted my career to be in clinical research.
Going straight from doing my A-levels to getting the job as a Data Manager meant I hadn’t been to university. But I knew I’d found my career path, so I started to look for degrees that would support my development. That’s when I came across an MSc in Clinical Research at Cardiff University.
I was accepted onto the course based on the experience I’d gained so far – a three-year course that I could undertake alongside working.
Whilst working as a Data Manager and gaining my MSc, the CTU was working on establishing a quality assurance (QA) function. I thought it sounded really interesting and, as more positions became available, I was able to make the move across into it.
Since then, I’ve been able to work my way up into different roles within QA, which has led me to the position of Clinical Quality Assurance Specialist at Protas.
What is “quality assurance”?
Most people who work in clinical research think about QA as being all about complying with regulations.
While ensuring clinical trials are conducted in accordance with regulatory requirements is important, these are the minimum requirements for conducting clinical trials and they aren’t an indicator of good quality.
A good quality trial is one that answers the research question and provides reliable results whilst ensuring participant safety.
In QA, we have an important job to do in putting systems and processes in place to ensure the quality of trials, from the initial design right through to analysis and trial closure.
One of the crucial jobs I’ve had since joining Protas is supporting our Head of Clinical Quality Assurance, Emma Law, in implementing and auditing our quality management system (QMS).
The QMS encompasses all of the processes, standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies and other documents that ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. It allows us to implement a proportionate approach to quality and focus on the issues that are most important.
Working in QA is about being motivated to want to do better, for the benefit of everyone. I really feel like my job contributes to people’s lives.
If you have the motivation to do good in the world, then you would do well to pursue a career in QA!
What interested you about Protas?
I’d enjoyed being part of setting up a function at the University of Liverpool, and I was looking to put my skills to use. With Protas being a new organisation, this felt like an interesting challenge.
But it needed to be the right fit. Up to this point, I’d worked in academia, on projects funded by charities. Working somewhere that wasn’t for profit, that was entirely for the good of the people, was so important to me.
I’d already seen first-hand how clinical trials can lead to standard practice being changed, and this was an opportunity to join a not-for-profit organisation that is enhancing clinical research in a way that genuinely puts people’s health first.
What inspires you in your job?
I’ve always felt clinical research is about hope, which is something I felt even more so when my dad was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic.
He’d been through treatment and was in remission, but the cancer came back. We were told that the other available treatment was unlikely to cure him, which was such a devastating time for our family.
Then my dad was invited to take part in a study on CAR-T therapy, an innovative type of immunotherapy, in Manchester. This was an early phase study. The treatment wasn’t available on the NHS for adults, and the trial was to see if it had the same positive effect in adults as it does in children.
Even though we knew that this might not lead to anything changing for my dad, the thought of being involved in a trial, in doing something that could help others, really kept him going. Sadly, he died just before he could start his trial, but I know that it was giving him the determination to go on.
That’s what inspires me. When it feels like there’s nothing left for people, when they are told there’s nothing else that can be done, clinical research gives a glimmer of hope.
I’m proud that my sister and my partner both work in clinical research too. I don’t want our story to be a sad story – I want people to know that clinical trials are a source of hope, and that’s why we’re all working to ensure they have the best chances of succeeding.