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Finola Moore, PhD

Graduation Year: 2010
Advisor: Kiyokawa, Hiroaki
Current Position: Director of Pipeline Research, Immune Oncology, Catamaran Bio

Finola Moore was born in Ireland but grew up mostly on the East coast of the United States.  She attended McGill University in Montreal and worked for a few years before joining Northwestern for graduate school.  Finola worked in the lab of Hiro Kiyokawa in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Biochemistry, graduating in 2010.

What made you want to go to graduate school?

Coming out of undergrad, I knew I liked science but didn't want to do medicine.  I worked for a couple of years as a research associate first before committing to a career in research.  I ended up working at Harvard and Tufts but, in the interview process, was intrigued with industry science.  At the time, it was clear there was a ceiling for careers in industry without a PhD.  I decided to do my PhD to actualize my growth as a scientist but I did not intend to do academic research long-term.

What brought you to Northwestern and the IGP/DGP?

I chose Northwestern and IGP because of the high quality of science across multiple labs. I had worked enough in academia to know that you could never be sure which labs were funded to take students.  You need a deep bench of talent - which Northwestern had and still does.  To be honest, I also liked the people I met on the interview weekend and felt they could be great colleagues and friends, which also still stands.

What did you study in graduate school?

I studied the role of an oncogene called Smurf2 in cell cycle and tumor cell invasion in the lab of Hiro Kiyokawa.  I have a long scientific interest in apoptosis, especially when it goes wrong in cancer.  I learned so much from Hiro, from the many techniques required to interrogate genetic pathways to broader questions about how cells coopt cytoskeletal restructuring for mitosis to invading new tissues.

Did you do a postdoc?  What did you study?

I returned to Boston for my postdoc in the lab of David Langenau, at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital.  While studying cell cycle in grad school, the field came to realize the importance of tumor heterogeneity and in particular tumor "stem cells" in metastasis.  In my postdoc, I investigated self-renewal pathways of these tumor propagating cells in leukemia, using zebrafish as a model.  I used a lot of cool technology from gene editing tools (ZFNs, TALENs, and Crispr/Cas9) to single cell sequencing.  During this time, I attended a conference in which Carl June presented early results of CAR-T cell therapy.  I decided I wanted to continue my work in cell therapy (with the recent advance of Carl June) or gene therapy (with the tools I had come to learn).  I knew I wanted to go into industry early on in my postdoc but I'm glad I extended my scientific training.  I needed it to mature as a scientist. I helped found a group of postdocs interested in going into industry.  I felt that this was the environment in which I could best do team science with the best chance of impact on translation.

What was your first job outside of academic research, and how did you get it?

My first industry position was as a senior scientist at a small start up in cell therapy.  I did get it through direct application, but I also had opportunities through my network. I spent significant amount of time building my network during postdoc to prepare for my industry transition.

What is your current position?  Please describe the big picture of your position as well as a bit about the day-to-day.

I am now Director of Pipeline in Immune-oncology at a small NK-CAR cell therapy company, Catamaran Bio. Prior to this role, I was a gene therapy company as Program Director of Research.

How did Northwestern prepare you for your current career?

Northwestern prepared me with the rigor of the scientific training - I had a hard time in grad school to get publishable results but in the end, that taught me resilience and resourcefulness.  While at Northwestern, I participated in several other student activities - Graduate Leadership Council, intramural soccer, teaching certificate etc... Funny enough, I learned a tremendous amount in these experiences for leadership and communication.

What advice would you give to current students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?

If you want to advance far in industry research, focus on 1. building in technical skills to your project that will be in demand over the next few years and 2. honing your soft skills for teamwork, communication, organization, networking, and leadership.

Do you have any final advice for graduate students?

My prime drive is that I don't expect it to be easy.  If you expect you have to work hard, stay sharp and current, and build/maintain professional friendships, you will have that sense of hunger and urgency that will feed your ambitions.

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