The glass ceiling

drug industry has changed. These days the lengthy process of getting a drug to market is far more fragmented. Contract Research Organisations (CROs) outsource the job of clinical trials, and tranScrip book-ends this CRO market, supporting companies on which drugs to pursue and then helping them gain regulatory approval.

tranScrip was already looking for growth investors before the pandemic hit, and completed the Palatine funding round despite the remote challenges of multiple lockdown. Its choice of investor was very deliberate. “We went for a private equity fund that recognised the importance to us of social impact,” Gabbay said.

tranScrip’s work is grounded in making a difference to society, and its approach to environmental, social and governance obligations is a key driver of the business. “While we need to make a profit for our investors, we are also careful not to compromise our commitment to our customers or staff.” tranScrip has been reconsidering its carbon footprint in light of the pandemic lockdowns, and is determined to maintain the equitable corporate culture it has nurtured from the start.

Co-founded by Gabbay and Marcin Mankowski as a partnership, tranScrip has now become a limited company but still operates on a very flat structure. “We set a lot of store by growing people in the organisation. Culture is very important to us, and we don’t want to approach management in an old- fashioned way. It’s been good to have investors who understand good governance and support us to grow the company with this in mind.”

With the investment, Gabbay and her partners want to acquire smaller companies to underpin their regulatory affairs division, and expand geographically to better reflect the work they’re doing already. “Around 80% of the work we consult on is carried out outside of the UK, but 80% of our work is done from here. We will shortly open an office in Switzerland and we want to expand our presence in the US. And while we have an office in Ghana we’d like to move into North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific.”

tranScrip will still operate from its home base in the Thames Valley.

‘We deliberately chose the Thames Valley. It was the perfect place to set up the business, as the company has been able to attract and retain people with a very specialised skillset’

Gabbay honed her skills in the boardrooms of a big pharma in the 1980s but left when she kept banging up against the glass ceiling. “All my male colleagues went whizzing past me. But actually it turned out to be a good thing because I was never promoted to incompetence,” she said with a wry smile. “Ironically I had a superb grounding for a great career, I just got there a little later”.

tranScrip is her second successful pharma services company, she sold her first in 1996 to PPD, the US drug development CRO that was bought by Thermo Fisher Scientific for $17.4 billion in April.

Coming from a research background before she entered the corporate world, Flic was keenly aware of a dearth of industry standards and acceptable practices for physicians in pharmaceutical development. “Halfway through the 80s, I watched colleagues getting fired every few years, because they had no training in research and development, no standards to work by, and were constantly battling with the commercial part of company who wanted them to do unethical things,” Gabbay said. She helped found the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine (FPM) and has been instrumental in setting global industry standards and developing training programs to establish validation for pharmaceutical physicians in the industry. Later this year she will take on the FPM presidency with a manifesto to focus on women’s health and encourage collaboration between corporate pharmas and the NHS.

A keen sailor, Gabbay has passed up the opportunity to compete in the Fastnet offshore yacht race for the seventh time this year. There’s just so much to do. On top of tranScrip’s global expansion and her Faculty role, Flic wants to expand the company’s charity involvement, particularly in Nepal. “My daughter runs an educational charity in Nepal where 70% of women are illiterate, and I would dearly love to contribute to healthcare there.”

Meanwhile the coronavirus is still devastating many parts of the globe. While vaccine rollouts in developed countries are generating triumphant headlines, they can only attenuate the disease, not eradicate it. “We need both, treatments and vaccines”, said Flic. It’s going to be another very busy year.

Flic Gabbay

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