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The Interview Series – Dr Karen O’Hanlon, CDO, Stablepharma

Dr Karen O’Hanlon, Chief Development Officer at Stablepharma, has worked in drug development for over 25 years and has huge amounts of experience in the design and implementation of preclinical and clinical development programmes for a variety of products which includes vaccines, gene therapies, cell therapies, biologicals and small molecules.

Prior to joining Stablepharma last year, Karen was VP Clinical Operations for 4 years at Boyds where she worked as a consultant on several gene therapy and vaccine development programmes. One of her most interesting assignments at Boyds was working as a consultant for Stablepharma where she led the design of the clinical development programme for the SPVX02 tetanus and diphtheria vaccine. After working closely with the science team for over 2 years, Karen decided to jump ship and join the Stablepharma team. Her motivation? To support the team in realising their vision of making fridge-free vaccines a reality.

Karen has a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Manchester so she has always had a keen interest in advanced therapies which include gene and cell therapies, with a particular interest in inherited genetic diseases like the muscular dystrophies. So, this venture into Stablepharma, to take a thermostable formulation of a recognised adjuvanted vaccine into clinic, was not something she had anticipated.

I asked Karen at what point did she decided to leave her senior position at Boyds to join Stablepharma full time. She recounted a meeting that she had attended in London with the Stablepharma team and her colleagues from Boyds. “During the meeting it really dawned on me that fridge-free vaccines were going be a reality, in a very short time period, and the potential life-saving implications were just mind-blowing”. A follow up call from that meeting with Ozgur Tuncer (Stablepharma CEO) convinced her that she had to seize the opportunity and take the leap – thankfully Professor Alan Boyd was incredibly supportive of her decision and she is grateful for his guidance.

Stablepharma Ltd, a biopharmaceutical company developing a range of next generation fridge-free vaccine products.

Stablepharma is now progressing rapidly towards clinical trials for SPVX02, a fridge-free vaccine for the prevention of tetanus and diphtheria, with participant recruitment on track to start in the 2nd half of 2024. Karen will lead these clinical trials with Professor Saul Faust at the University Hospital of Southampton. “I am delighted to be working with Professor Saul Faust, the quality of his team and facilities are outstanding and based on previous experience, I know that these studies will be successful.

Karen talked about her experience of working with lots of other BioPharma companies and the excitement of taking their products forward into clinical trials both here in the UK and further afield. She commented, “Every clinical trial that is initiated is a significant milestone in the path to approval for a product, it’s amazing to be part of these journeys which all aim to improve human health and combat disease”.

Karen went on to say, “I suppose the main thing that convinced me that I was making the right move was the energy in the team, their passion and the fact that, together, we are going to have such an impact on the world – we cannot reformulate all vaccines to make them fridge-free and completely eradicate the necessity for the cold chain, but with the right partners and investment, we can certainly make an impact in parts of the world where it really matters”.

......it really dawned on me that fridge-free vaccines were going be a reality, in a very short time period, and the potential life-saving implications were just mind-blowing.

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