MBA named among UK's top 30 women in biobusiness
  • BioBeat Movers and Shakers Biobusiness list includes student Ola Wlodek
  • She is leading new cell therapy treatment for motor neurone disease
  • Her firm Reflection Therapeutics also wants to tackle other brain conditions
  • Ola is honoured to be part of the prestigious annual life sciences list

Ola Wlodek has been named one of the UK’s most influential women in the biomedical sector for her pioneering work in trying to find a cure for motor neurone disease.

The 36 year-old co-founded Reflection Therapeutics, which is using cutting edge cell therapy techniques to tackle the neurodegenerative disease that affected Stephen Hawking for much of his life and has made headlines recently with rugby league star Rob Burrow suffering from the disease.

The annual BioBeat Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness lists the country’s 30 most influential women at the forefront of the life sciences sector and named Ola among them for her groundbreaking business.

Ola, who is studying for an Executive MBA at WBS, said: “I am very honoured to be part of this great list. BioBeat Movers and Shakers has become an annual celebration of the UK life sciences sector and its top achievers - and I am grateful and excited by this recognition.

“For me, it is a testament to the exciting and cutting-edge technology behind Reflection Therapeutics, and what a great team we have built here.”

Ola and her team at Reflection Therapeutics are creating new cell therapies for devastating neurological conditions; raising £700,000 in grants to tackle brain diseases like motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis. She is using synthetic DNA to direct anti-inflammatory regulatory T cells to motor neurons and remain in the brain.

“Our immune system protects us from bacteria and viruses, but it needs to learn how not to attack healthy cells that make up the body,” says Ola, who moved from Poland to Cambridge in 2009 to pursue a PhD in biological sciences and ended up settling there. 

“Regulatory T cells are white blood cells that ‘calm down’ inflammation caused by a rogue immune system. However, in motor neurone disease this rogue inflammation is out of control and damages the spine and brain.

“To solve this problem we take blood from patients, grow their regulatory T cells and engineer them with a tissue recognition system. This will ‘teach’ the cells to calm down inflammation in the spine or brain, and finally we will inject the cells back into patients. The cells will then target the zones of inflammation and will help the damaged spine and brain cells to regenerate.  

“At the moment we are developing a treatment for motor neurone disease – the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis form of the disease.

“We will be further expanding our treatment to other diseases, like some forms of multiple sclerosis. After we learn fully how to make these cells survive, thrive and work in an inflamed brain, we will move to other therapeutic areas, like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.”

Although Reflection Therapeutics’ pioneering work has had encouraging preliminary results it has yet to reach the stage of having clinical trials and so it will be several years before it has progressed to the point of being widely available, but gaining recognition from the BioBeat Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness annual awards shows Ola and her team are on the right track.

And Ola believes studying for an MBA is helping her to improve the business and make useful contacts.

“While I was a successful scientist, I realised that being a biotech leader requires more than just technical skills,” said Ola.

“I realised that an MBA is an excellent way to make significant progress by focusing on strategy, design thinking, and soft skills. So far, every module takes me to a new level.

“The MBA is inspiring yet the structure is super-fast and also incredibly intellectually challenging. I have also met amazing people through my cohort – such as Miray Aibibula, who works in medtech – so we share experiences and can talk about the specifics of ‘our’ industry.”