International Women's Day (March 8) is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This March 8, Octapharma celebrates Dr Judith Pool, a research associate at Stanford University who, in 1964, first developed a technique to produce cryoprecipitate from a single donor’s plasma in an ordinary blood bank. Her ground-breaking method was a major breakthrough in the treatment of haemophilia which played a key part in the development of our industry and company.
Prior to Dr Pool’s important work, haemophilia patients received transfusions of fresh whole blood or fresh frozen plasma in hospital. Afterwards, “cryo” from single donors became widely available to them.
The advances made with cryo sparked a wave of interest in plasma-based therapies and a handful of companies moved quickly to commercialise this new opportunity. Octapharma was one of them. Learn more about the history of Octapharma here.
Judith Ethel Graham Pool was born on June 1, 1919, into a Jewish family in Queens, New York. After gaining her PhD in physiology at the University of Chicago, she moved to Stanford University in 1953, investigating coagulation with particular attention to Factor VIII (FVIII), the protein associated with haemophilia.1
Pool’s work on blood coagulation resulted in the development of a technique to produce cryoprecipitate, a cold-insoluble protein fraction of blood plasma, which contains an antihaemophilic factor (AHF) - factor VIII. Pool’s major observation was that factor VIII can be simply prepared from human plasma, and then easily and safely given to haemophilia patients to prevent and control bleeding or to prepare them for surgical procedures.
Image: Stanford Medical History Center
In addition to devising and developing the cryo process, Dr Pool also made many other important contributions to the extraction and preservation of proteins and, at the time of her death, was widely respected in the field of haematology.2
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we interviewed a number of women across Octapharma to explore how an inclusive environment that values unique and curious minds can inspire us all to innovate every day. Here are a selection of their responses:
Andrea Heger, a senior scientist and Team Leader for Plasma R&D, liked to research things even as a child, and dreamed of working as a scientist. Today, she leads a research team of 14 technicians at Octapharma Plasma R&D in Vienna, Austria.
Like the protagonist in her favourite film, Erin Brockovich, Andrea has always had an innate sense of curiosity, and moved abroad to pursue her scientific studies after completing college in Vienna.
Andrea is certain she received the decisive push for her studies from her mother: “My mother inspired me on my journey into healthcare medicine. She fully supported and motivated me during my education,” explains Andrea, adding that she was also motivated to study medical biochemistry at university by famous scientists such as Marie Curie.
“I have learned from my research experience that it is important to be diligent and to be persistent. Endurance can lead to success. If you don’t keep developing, you’ll become obsolete,” Andrea says.
Elisabeth Tomaz works as a Qualified Person based in Vienna. In her role, she assesses the quality of Octapharma’s products and ensures that only safe products get to our patients.
“I have to confess that no female leader or public figure has especially inspired me. It was my mother who influenced me. It was very important to her that her daughters received a higher education and had the opportunity to pursue a relevant profession,” Elisabeth tells us.
Later, with a family of her own, Elisabeth and her husband naturally shared all household duties as well as both being involved in educating their children. As she puts it, gender equality means the equal visibility, empowerment, responsibility and participation of both women and men in all spheres of public and private life. It also means equal access to and distribution of resources between women and men, and valuing both equally.
Dr Caroline Bartsch, Head of Quality in Operations and Head of Quality Control at the packaging and logistic site in Dessau, is inspired by Hillary Clinton.
“I bought her book - in which she dealt with her lost presidential bid - completely by chance - and was very impressed by the discipline, assertiveness and motivation with which she approached that election. That she lost was certainly the biggest defeat of her life, but she has managed to work through it, started new projects and, as they say, "has turned a page", and that's what I admire."
Heading the Quality in Operation department, Caroline and her team are responsible for writing SOPs, controlling sighting logs, opening and processing deviations and overseeing GMP-relevant-processes during packaging and visual inspection.
Stephanie Kauert, Head of Human Resources at Octapharma Dessau is responsible for leading the HR team at the site. Besides driving all HR activities such as strategic HR for Octapharma Dessau, she also acts as an “interface” between the local and Corporate HR teams, transferring corporate HR topics to the Dessau site.
“Michelle Obama is a great example of how to communicate and act with different kinds of people. It doesn´t matter what age, educational background or position within society they are. She is an inspiring example of what you can achieve when you do things with confidence in yourself and in your environment, and with conviction and passion for your work.”
Fany Chauvel, Corporate Head of People, Organisation and Culture at Octapharma, always puts competence before gender.
“At work, I strive to achieve parity in the departments and, more generally across the company, to promote diversity. I am very proud to belong to the Lachen team, which brings together people of 24 different nationalities, which is a great source of strength, with so many ways of looking at a problem and building a solution.”
Gerda Brandt, Head of HR at Octapharma Vienna, is keen to encourage all competent staff to put themselves forward for new positions when they arise, especially women.
“In my opinion, management positions should always be filled by the most qualified person, but I recognise the need to support women in the application process. It is often more challenging for women to appear self-confident and present themselves and their competencies convincingly. For whatever reason, many female colleagues do not put themselves forward to take a step into a career at senior management level. For this reason, we try to encourage suitable internal female candidates to consider those roles. As a result, we already have several women in senior level positions at the Vienna site.”
Alice Stewart, Chief Operating Officer at Octapharma Plasma, Inc (OPI): “There is a notable gap in the world of STEM in which women only make up 28% of people in the workforce focused on science, technology, engineering, and math. At Octapharma, we provide resources for employees to embark on their journey into a STEM career, while rewarding dedicated employees with the opportunity to gain both medical and corporate-professional skills, thus empowering our employees toward great success."
"I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside so many intelligent and ambitious women who I learn from and am inspired by every day. Their dedication to the mission and vision of Octapharma is admirable and I love to celebrate their great achievements at any opportunity I can. They are one of the many reasons I am excited to come to work everyday and continue to strive towards our goal of inspiring change.”
Haemophilia (2012), 18, 833–835. DOI: 10.1111/hae.12042.