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Expert Knowledge


Meet the team - Justyna Rzepecka (Associate Director of Immunology)

If you follow us on LinkedIn, you might have already seen that we are continuing our celebration of our talented scientific team by starting the week off with the first of four Employee Spotlights from our colleagues in Edinburgh.  

We are excited to introduce you to Justyna Rzepecka, our Associate Director of Immunology. Justyna’s unwavering commitment to supporting our talented team of immunologists and to developing robust fit-for-purpose assay systems has been instrumental in allowing us to help our clients drive the development of their discovery pipelines. Learn more about Justyna’s career progression below and what advancements she is excited to see in the field of immunology.

Can you provide a brief overview of your background and professional journey?

“I’m an immunologist by training and moved from academia to industry in 2014. I joined a start-up CRO called Aquila BioMedical that span out from University of Edinburgh and was the third member of the team. Our team had grown, and in 2017 the company was acquired by Concept Life Sciences. My position has changed along with the team’s needs to sustain its growth. A few years after joining the company I was promoted to Principal Scientist and recently to Associate Director of Immunology.”

What was your educational journey, and how did it shape your career in immunology?

“My MSc and PhD, as well as several years of postdoctoral studies, focused on investigating how parasitic worms evolve to modulate the immune responses of their hosts. I studied how active worm infections could impact the course of different pathologies including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. The aim of my studies was to try to understand the mechanism behind these effects with the hope that it would unravel new and improved therapeutic approaches. My research involved a lot of in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo experiments using different cell types and disease models, and a whole host of techniques. It’s fair to say that my academic training was very comprehensive and prepared me very well for my first job in industry.”  

What motivates you to work in the field of immunology?

“In my work I have the privilege to interact with different researchers from around the globe, working on a huge variety of molecular and cellular targets and therapeutic modalities. I have the early insight into new and cutting-edge ideas within the immunotherapy field, well before the ideas reach the public domain. It’s a huge motivator to be given this opportunity and being able to help progress these ideas towards the clinic.”

What are your primary responsibilities and what does your typical workday involve?

“My primary responsibilities as Associate Director of Immunology involve identifying and supporting growth initiatives within the business to make sure we stay ahead of the curve, providing scientific oversight, and consulting on a large variety of projects as well as leading a scientific team of talented individuals.”  

Can you tell us about any specific areas of immunology that you are excited about?

“I feel at the moment the most exciting area within immunotherapy research is cell and gene therapy. It’s a rapidly developing field and one that holds great promise for combating cancer and other diseases.”  

How do you foster collaboration and teamwork within your team?

“As a company we work on challenging projects which often require contribution from different team members to succeed. We tap into the wealth of in-house expertise we have. All our scientists are open-minded and results driven individuals with curious minds – so great to work with!”

What at are some of the current challenges or trends in immunology research, and how is your team addressing them?

“There is an ongoing demand for reproducible and cost-effective translational assays utilising human primary cells that would enable drug developers to test their therapies in vitro before progressing them to clinical trials. A lot of pre-clinical studies are conducted in in vivo models, predominantly using mice, which is one of the reasons why so many candidate therapies fail in humans. A point in case being therapies targeting macrophages. Despite the undeniable potential of such therapies, very few of them have shown tangible effects in clinical trials. As mouse and human macrophage biology differs a lot, human macrophage in vitro testing platforms should provide superior modelling of macrophage biology for pre-clinical assessment of therapies. Developing such platforms is an ongoing effort at Concept Life Sciences.”  

What advice do you have for individuals aspiring to pursue a career in immunology or scientific research?

“Immunology is undoubtedly a fascinating area of research and one that will be gaining in importance for years and decades to come as the immunotherapy field continues to grow. There is enormous potential of harnessing the immune system itself to tackle challenging diseases and we are just at the beginning of this path so there is much more to explore. I would encourage someone aspiring for a career in immunology to stay curious and explore as much as they can.”

What are your future goals and aspirations in the field of immunology, both for yourself and your team?

“My hope for the team is that we will continue to invest in developing complex in vitro cellular assay systems that faithfully recapitulate in vivo disease settings.”  

Do you have a favourite project or research endeavour that you've been involved in during your time at Concept?

“We are really spoilt in our jobs as all our projects are exciting! There is one project though which has been my favourite this year –  it concerns investigating mRNA-LNP-based therapies in immuno-oncology indications. I believe there is a huge potential of these types of therapies to treat not only cancer but also other medical conditions.”  

How do you unwind and recharge outside of work?

“A daily long walk works best to clear my head and recharge. I don’t take my phone or watch with me and make every effort to make it a mindful experience. I’m lucky to have great outdoors on my doorstep which helps a lot.”

Have you had any influential mentors or role models in your career, and if so, how did they impact your professional development?

“I’ve had many great mentors throughout my academic and industry career, many of them were female leaders. They were all dedicated scientists and effective managers, so I learnt a lot from them but most importantly they showed me that it’s possible to juggle a busy family life with work commitments.”  

We hope you have found this useful – many thanks to Justyna for providing insights into her career so far. Follow us on LinkedIn to learn more about the people behind the science at Concept Life Sciences.

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