Women In Science feat. Chung Looi

We caught up with Chung Looi CEO of Ablatus, the first spin-out company from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital that invented bimodal electric tissue ablation.

The purpose of article series ‘Women In Science’ is to feature, showcase and share the reality of being someone that identifies as a woman in science. We gather and showcase stories, career journeys, as well as advice and wisdom.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Could you please introduce yourself as well as your background?

Looi: My name is Looi, I spent the last 10 years in the MedTech research and industry, bringing cutting-edge technologies from R&D to global markets. I am a cognitive neuroscientist by training, having completed my DPhil/PhD in Experimental Psychology from Oxford. After that, I worked with Cambridge Cognition Ltd. and the University of Bristol as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate via a KTP grant by Innovate UK. I later joined Oxford VR Ltd, a digital health startup as Partnerships Director, working with healthcare systems and commercial insurers, and then Monsenso A/S, a Danish-born digital health company as Partnerships Director, working with life sciences companies to enable greater access to care and better treatment outcomes for patients.

Recently, I joined as CEO at Ablatus Therapeutics, which is  diverse, women-led Med/FemTech company based in Cambridge. Ablatus is the first spin out of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and we have developed a patented radiofrequency ablation technology that can be used to destroy soft tissues like tumours and fibroids. Since joining the company we have focused on women’s health given the huge unmet need. We’ve launched our new product Luna, designed to treat uterine fibroids, a massively underserved condition that affects up to 80% of women before the age of 50 in a minimally invasive and inclusive way.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Have you faced any challenges or barriers as a woman in science, and how did you overcome these?

Looi: Yes, as a woman in science, the decision of staying in academia was a difficult one. Statistically, the chances of career progression for women in academia is significantly lower compared with men. I transitioned into industry via the KTP role and took the opportunity to work in both industry and academia at the same time. From that experience, I learnt that I am likely to have a greater chance for wider impact within industry given my background and drive.

In my current role, I am aware that female CEOs are the minority, and only recently have become more prevalent. There are quite a few statistics which indicate that female CEOs find it harder to raise funds, particularly female CEOs from diverse backgrounds, especially in the FemTech space communicating about women’s health to investors who are mainly men. There is a lack of understanding for the problems that women are facing. Women’s health is underfunded and not seen as a priority, even though 50% of the population are women (!) and we can see where the problem stems from. I’m doing my best to raise awareness by communicating these issues openly to as many people as possible – every little helps!

Jazz @ ADLIB: How do you feel gender influences opportunities within the science sector?

Looi: In my experience, gender or rather, behaviours associated with gender may influence decisions regarding promotion. Women tend to behave in certain ways in terms of conflict resolution and leadership styles, so when it comes to promotions, there may be more opportunities for men to get noticed and rewarded by management teams who are typically male-dominated. There tends to be a biased belief of how leaders should behave and often, this picture is modelled on male leaders.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Are there any changes that you would implement in the educational or academic sector to make the field of science more attractive to females as a career path?

Looi: Within academia, career progression for researchers could be improved – there should be a female professor track, and this should account for them being mothers too. When mothers return from maternity leave, they often have to start again – this could be improved to make this path less daunting and more attractive. There could be more flexibility and support in the return-to-work period for instance.

Jazz @ ADLIB: What would you say has been the best advice you have received during your career as a female working in your role?

Looi: The best advice I received is that if you do not currently see an opportunity for yourself, go and make one! Create a space, an opportunity, or mix and match even if previously it had not existed. Passion and confidence are great, but act on it! I focused on making myself relevant and competitive with what I have to offer.

Jazz @ ADLIB: What advice would you like to pass on to the next gen of females in science?

Looi: Keep fighting for your passion! Do what you want to do and keep that up – but also support your fellow female colleagues and friends so that you can rise together and create opportunities for and with each other. It is not a competition against each other but collaborate to secure a future in science together!

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Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals

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Jazz Jones