From childhood dream to research team

01.03.2019
Our employees

Accurate, ambitious and reliable – these are three words which Andrea Heger, a senior scientist and Team Leader for Plasma R&D, uses to describe herself. Even as a child, Andrea liked to research things and dreamed of working as a scientist. Now she leads a research team of 14 technicians at Octapharma Plasma R&D in Vienna, Austria.

When Andrea was in elementary school, she discovered her passion for biology and her fascination for new things. But she also enjoyed the clarity of mathematics. Being inspired by her mother, who was a teacher, Andrea excelled in maths since as long ago as she can remember. Andrea grew up in Subotica, a town on the Hungarian-Serbian border, speaking Hungarian at home and learning Serbian-Croatian, and later German and English, at school.

From hometown to Zagreb

After completing college, Andrea immediately set about pursuing her plans, going abroad for her scientific studies. Like the protagonist in her favourite film, Erin Brockovich, she had an innate sense of curiosity. Andrea also 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.

Andrea was equally motivated to study medical biochemistry at university by famous scientists such as Marie Curie.

Andrea completed her master’s degree in medical biochemistry at the University of Pharmacy in Zagreb, Croatia. At this time she was still a novice in the field and therefore spent one year at the University Hospital in Zagreb rotating between the biochemistry, haematology and microbiology departments. As a trainee, she had to learn a lot. “I learned from my research experiences that it is important to be diligent and to have endurance. This can lead to success. If you don’t keep developing, you’ll become obsolete.”

In order to expand her knowledge, she decided to pursue a doctorate in pharmacy at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz in Austria. “After completing my PhD, I worked as a postdoctoral student at the Biochemical department of the Technical University in Graz, Austria where I collected significant laboratory experience,” she recalls.

Andrea is Team Leader for Plasma R&D in Vienna.
Finding the courage to keep going

Today, Andrea lives and works in Vienna and does not regret any of her decisions. “It was that special “can-do” attitude that I have inside of me. I am rather a calm and pleasant person, but at the same time I like a proper challenge,” explains the lover of winter sports and passionate traveller.

Thanks to her hard work, persistence and above all her confidence in herself and her knowledge, Andrea managed to overcome any hurdles. “I moved to different countries. Learning new languages and adapting to new cultures as well as being far from my parents, family and school friends – well, at times it was hard, but at the same time it challenged me to keep going,” she adds.

Start in the pharmaceutical industry

After some years working at the Biochemical department of the Technical University in Graz, Andrea realised she wanted to move into the scientific field in the pharmaceutical industry.

In the scientific area one has more challenges. I have learned that through science you really can make a difference in the world and benefit other people.

In 2000, Andrea was appointed as a scientist at Octapharma R&D in Vienna. “During this time I partly worked in the lab myself,” she recalls. “Later I became a senior scientist for solvent/ detergent-treated pooled plasma, and gained more and more responsibilities.” As her responsibilities increased, Andrea found more and more questions directed to her. “For particular projects, there were a lot of reviews. So, I always had to explain why we did certain things. It was a good experience because I learned a lot more quickly this way.”

Andrea leads a team of 14 technicians.

Recently, Andrea was promoted to Team Leader. Now leading a team of 14 technicians, she believes in team balance, reliability and hard work. Beyond her scientific skills, Andrea also believes that as a scientist, staying open-minded, being precise and being a good listener are key to success. “While I am very precise and exact at work, I can listen to people and I am glad if I can help someone,” she continues.

Driven to help

“I enjoy my work. It is very versatile and varied,” she says, reflecting on her career at Octapharma. “It is great to enjoy what you are doing, be a good scientist and help people. As senior scientist, together with my team within the R&D department, we are developing new products and processes and optimising existing processes, which leads to new applications and improvements required for product safety and patient treatment.”

Andrea has successfully worked on the development of a second generation plasma product, by introducing a new dedicated prion removal step. The new product contains more than 1,000 proteins that all have important roles in plasma and must be protected during production. For Andrea this was a challenging project, but at the same time one of the proudest moments in her career.

In research, we always have to think several steps ahead. So, I was very proud when the FDA approved our product, for both the Vienna and Stockholm sites.

Andrea enjoys taking on a heavy workload, including working on several scientific studies and publications on plasma. She also presents her work at major scientific congresses.

Her latest challenges focus on designing two new developments for pooled plasma. Both are high-priority projects in the pre-clinical stage, with the aim being to improve treatment in intensive care and emergency situations. “My job can be very challenging, but what’s especially important is that, at the end of the day, it’s for the benefit of the patient – and that’s the highest reward.”

Andrea and her team’s latest challenges focus on designing two new developments for our pooled plasma products.
Keywords

Research & Development

Annual report

Woman in science