Meet Irene, Section Head Neuroimmunology at Roche


Hi, my name is…

…Irene. I am from Lucerne, Switzerland, and joined Roche 3 years ago from the University of Zurich. I was a principal investigator in Alzheimer’s disease research focusing on the neuroimmunological mechanisms of chronic neurodegenerative diseases. My undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are also from the University of Zurich, and I did my postdoctoral education at Caltech, USA and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

I am a science enthusiast, always keen on learning something new. This also includes the history of medical science. I am always impressed of how much knowledge and how many technologies these truly pioneering scientists had. And how much we can still learn from them today!

Sport is a great way for me to relax. I used to be a ski instructor in the area of Lucerne. Now I am enjoying the slopes without a trail of kids behind me. Besides being a passionate skier, I love to hike and bike, and enjoy Bikram yoga here in Basel.

My typical day at work is…

…very diverse and interactive. Since April this year, I have been heading the new Neuroimmunology section in the Neuroscience, Ophthalmology and Rare Disease department. My main responsibility is to lead and support research activities to identify new molecular targets for chronic neuroimmunological and neurodegenerative diseases. Together with my lab heads and their teams, we aim to bring new drug discovery programmes from the bench to the bedside. Importantly, we work very closely with our clinical colleagues, as well as our partnering groups to evaluate external opportunities and collaborations with academic partners. I am very excited about the opportunities we have in drug discovery. During my time in academia I worked on disease mechanisms as well, but now I can make a real difference for patients by actually translating our knowledge into therapies.

The location I am working at is …                               

…Roche Innovation Center Basel. The different labs are currently a bit spread out over the site, but this will change once the new Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) research centre has been built here at Roche headquarters. Despite the distance between some labs, the work atmosphere is exceptional: The level of expertise and qualification, the commitment and support you receive every day is truly unique.  

My work helps Roche to …

…develop novel therapies for patients with chronic neuroimmunological and neurodegenerative disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. All these diseases are highly complex and heterogenous and our molecular understanding is not yet sufficient to develop a cure. But we can target mechanisms that are responsible for disease disability progression by generating novel drugs that allow structural and functional preservation of neurons. This should ultimately help patients to maintain their motor and cognitive functions as long as possible.

Roche as an employer is…

…very supportive. I have found Roche to have a very open, highly collaborative and innovation-driven working spirit. You can also sense the company’s focus on long-term sustainability on all levels; ranging from the ongoing investments and expansions at the Basel site, to the support of your personal scientific and leadership development, including the active participations in planning and attending scientific conferences, as well as engagements in diverse management and leadership trainings. I am very thankful for all the opportunities I have received during my relatively short time at the company.

In my department we are looking for someone/people who…

…know the field of neuroimmunology and neurodegeneration; talents who bring in fresh ideas and will complement our core discovery team. Success in drug discovery is very tightly linked to a deep understanding of the disease mechanisms. So we are looking for excellent scientists who know these areas. I also very much pay attention to people's social skills and team spirit, as we need to work together efficiently, and importantly – also have fun and enjoy what we are doing in order to develop the best therapies for our patients. Details about the open position can be found here.  

What's the best advice you ever received in your career, and whom did you get it from?

Don’t be the sheep; stay curious; challenge yourself and keep doing good work! This advice doesn’t come from a single person, but summarised the best.

How would you describe working at Roche in three words?

Visions - Opportunities - Excitement

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