— Meet Sophia

I am one to take unconventional routes, and this is certainly a great one.

Let’s start with an introduction!

Hi, I’m Sophia. I am a bioinformatician and have a background in neurobiology.  I work on biomedical  problems with the means of  data science and machine learning methods. Currently, I am doing a PhD in Computational Life Sciences at the University of Bonn at the Fraunhofer Institute and took up the opportunity to do an internship at Roche.

When did you first hear about Roche?

The first time I heard about Roche was some years ago during my Biology studies. Back then, my plan was to work in the lab as a neurobiologist, and Roche would have been a great place for this to drive innovation forward in neuroscience. Now, with additional training in bioinformatics, I had even more techniques at hand and could tackle questions that people in Personalized Health Care at Roche were asking. My professor was the one that introduced me to Healthcare Xplorers. During my PhD at the time we were working on precision medicine – finding better treatments for patients, better prognosis and diagnosis. The Healthcare Xplorer data challenge was exactly what we were working on, so I decided to take this chance and engage in this field from an industry perspective here at Roche.

What was your challenge question about?

Nowadays, patients are still lacking effective treatment for some conditions, and drug development can take several years. Many drugs already on the market have the potential to be used for diseases apart from the original indication they were developed for. The challenge question was about how we can find out these new indications that a drug could be used for. We can leverage the biological knowledge we have from scientific literature and lab experiments, then model how diseases, drugs and genes are related to each other. With the help of machine learning, we can find out previously unknown connections and associations between drugs and diseases and fill the knowledge gap.  This way, we can extend the scope or indication a drug would have which is called drug-repurposing.

How was the Xplorers camp?

It was one intense meeting! First you have to develop your idea to solve the challenge. Since I was already in the field, I had a good understanding of how to tackle such a question. I presented to five mentors in the call. It was really interactive as they asked questions about my approach and provided great feedback. At the time I thought, even if I don’t get in, this was already really great as I got so much valuable feedback from expert scientists in the field. It was a really positive experience.

What was Roche like? Was it as you expected?

Absolutely and not at all! I was expecting a modern pharmaceutical company. This is absolutely what I encountered and even more than that. But, it was not at all expected for me to encounter such an empowering network. Especially in the PHC (Personalized Health Care) network, which is really broad, I connected with many brilliant scientists and got great feedback within the project. This is something I would not have expected from industry, but it was there.

What are you up to nowadays?

In my project now we are trying to predict connections between drugs and diseases in a biological network. In the beginning, we made a plan on how we want to approach the topic since we don’t know if this approach is going to work. Together with my excellent mentor Dr. Charlotta Fruechtenicht, we made a strategy to have different machine learning models and collaborate across Roche with others who were also knowledgeable about the field. The aim is to find disease areas that you could focus on if you want to know if a drug could modulate a certain pathway or protein. You can therefore help business decisions based on these predictions.

Which project are you most proud of working on so far?

Just before Christmas, we connected with colleagues from pRED. That team was working on similar problems to what we were doing, so by putting our heads together, we found we had communal interests and were planning to collaborate in the future to solve relevant research questions for Roche.  This was truly a OneRoche moment where they had the data, and we had the methodology, so we are excited to see what this collaboration will bring.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

I am going to continue with my PhD, so this is one big milestone for me. I have some interesting projects coming up, so I am excited to continue working in the field and driving research forward.

Would you recommend Healthcare Xplorers? Why or why not?

Absolutely. I am one to take unconventional routes, and this is certainly a great one.

Anything else you would like to add?

I want to truly thank my mentors Dr. Charlotta Fruechtenicht, Dr. Marius Garmhausenand and Dr. Gunther Jansen for all their support and great feedback they provided during my time here at Roche. Thanks a lot to the PHC team for being amazing colleagues in extraordinary times. I will leave here with many rich memories!