Dr Grace Wong: from science to pharmaceutical consulting

8 January 2018

Dr Grace Wong is a Medical Science Liasison at AbbVie, as an educator and advocate of cutting edge science with top-tier doctors in the field.

Dr Grace Kai Wai Wong (Croucher Scholarship 2007) received her PhD in Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. After finishing her master’s degree at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Wong completed a PhD in Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD research focused on understanding how neurons develop from a premature stage to a mature network capable of supporting various sensory, cognitive, or emotional processes. The specific question that interested Wong was how the premature neuroepithelium, develop into various cell types forming distinct layers of the retinal network. To study this, she chose to study the development of retinal ganglion cells in zebrafish, which has a similar neural architecture to mammals. In addition, its rapid development, ease of genetic manipulation and virtually transparent embryo offer researchers the opportunity to observe neuronal development and migration in real time with imaging.

Wong’s hypothesis was that the Slit1b-Robo3 and N-cadherin molecules are important for the detachment of the neuron from the apical surface of the neuroepithelium. To prove this hypothesis, she conducted several experiments and showed that knockdown of the guidance molecule Slit1b and its receptor Robo3 inhibit apical process retractions, whereas inhibiting the function of N-cadherin leads to premature apical processes retraction in the retinal ganglion cells. As a result, her works suggest that Slit-Robo signaling downregulates N-cadherin activity to allow apical retraction in newly generated retinal ganglion cells.

Upon graduation, Wong decided to explore opportunity outside of academia and these skills had landed Wong a job at Costello Medical Consulting in Cambridge, where she helped pharmaceutical companies develop market access strategies and medical education materials in multiple disease areas.

Today, Wong continues to excel at the pharmaceutical industry and is now a Medical Science Liaison at AbbVie in Ontario, Canada. In her current role, she is responsible for learning about the cutting-edge science in immunology and rheumatology, and discussing the latest trend with doctors in the field, such as the development of a new generation of targeted synthetic disease modifying anti-rheumatic agents, and the role of imaging tools for optimising outcomes.

“ What I found most challenging about my job is to establish a research study that meets a clinical knowledge gap as well as the scientific objectives of the company,” said Wong. “ I have to identify the right researcher with the motivation and interest, at the right time, and secure resources internally for such a project.”

In 2013, Wong has successfully introduced adalimumab, a medication used to relieve symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders, including hidradenitis suppurativa, a disease with few treatment options and significant negative impact on the patients' quality of life. The medication, widely known as Humira, was the first fully human monoclonal antibody approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The drug was patented in the US from 2012 to 2016 by AbbVie, and yielded $16 billion of global sales.

“I hope to develop advocacy with top-tier doctors in the field and position AbbVie as a key scientific leader, which will help AbbVie bring new therapeutic products to the market to advance the standard of care.”

Dr Grace Wong received her undergraduate and master’s in Biochemistry at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2007, and a PhD in Physiology, Development and Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge in 2011.

To view Dr Wong's Croucher profile, please click here