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Microphiles at Work:

Christy Hebner
Christy is the Head of Microbiology for Vir
Biotechnology, a company that creates and develops
cures for infectious diseases. Created in 2016, Vir is
based out of San Francisco.

What’s your educational


background?
I received a BS in Microbiology from Michigan State Achaogen, where I again worked in Clinical Development
University. My PhD was in Microbiology-Immunology, and helped bring another drug to the market (Zemdri).
studying Human Papillomavirus in the lab of Laimonis
Laimins at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Many of my former Gilead, Novartis and Achaogen
Medicine. I did a brief post-doc—6 months—at UCSF, colleagues work at Vir and they were all key to me
before starting my career in industry. interviewing for my current position.

How did you end up working as Can you tell us a bit about Vir?
Vir integrates diverse innovations in science, technology
the Head of Microbiology for Vir? and medicine to transform the care of people with serious
I thought about working in industry from a young age. My infectious disease. Vir’s initial focus in in three areas of
uncle was a chemist at Parke-Davis (now Pfizer) and took significant unmet need: chronic infectious diseases
me to work with him for a day when I was 16 years old. I (including HBV, TB, HIV); respiratory diseases
was so inspired by the people I met, and the things that I (including influenza, RSV and metapneumovirus); and
saw, that I was totally hooked on the idea of making health-care acquired infections.
medicines for a career.

During my senior year of my undergrad, Abbott What is a regular work day like?
Laboratories interviewed on my campus. Even though I There is no such thing as a typical day for me (which I
had always planned to go to graduate school straight out love!). I spend much of my day in meetings discussing
of undergrad, I applied. I got the job and spent two years scientific and regulatory strategies on different programs.
in industry before attending graduate school. I considered I also spend a lot of my day talking with junior scientists
staying in academia during my post-doc, but received an about their projects and experiments. I am currently
offer to interview at Gilead Sciences 6 months in and took planning to go into the lab to teach younger scientists an
the job. old-school technique that we need for an upcoming
program. I have fought hard in my career to stay in the lab
I spent 6 years at Gilead where I worked in both HCV because I love lab work, but in the past 2 years it has been
Drug Discovery and Clinical Development. I was hard to make this happen.
fortunate to be part of the team that brought the drug
Sovaldi to the market to cure HCV. I then took a job with
a former Gilead boss leading a larger team in Antiviral
Drug Discovery at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical
Research. This lasted for several years, and afterwards I
moved on to a small anti-bacterial company called
[Date]
What is your favorite part of the Do you have a
job? favorite microbe?
My favorite part of my job is interacting with junior I’ve had a lot of favorites over the years (there are so
scientists. Younger scientists know all the newest many interesting ones!!). Currently I’m obsessed with
techniques (I always think “if only I had that in grad HBV. There is evidence that HBV has been with humans
school!”) and I learn so much from them. At the same over at least the last 4500 years which makes me wonder
time, knowing how to do drug discovery and development if there was some sort of survival advantage for infection
is a specialized way of thinking that can’t be learned in a in early humans. It’s incredibly insidious the way it
textbook—only by doing—and I love the collaboration of establishes itself in both an episomal and integrated form
these two worlds that are necessary to truly drive in the hepatocyte. This is also my current favorite
innovative medicines forward. because I believe that technologically we’ve reached a
point where we really could cure infected patients in the
What advice would you give to near term. I have twice been fortunate enough to be on
teams that brought life-saving medicines to the market
students who are interested in and to see that be a possibility for the hundreds of
seeking industry jobs with a millions of people infected with chronic HBV is what
makes me eager to get up and go to work every morning.
microbiology degree? How can
microbiology graduates be
competitive applicants?
There are two things that really matter for getting a job in
industry. The first is outstanding communication skills.
Verbal and written communication are paramount in an
industrial setting. So much of what industrial scientists do
is about conveying ideas to others and making the
scientific case for a program decision. This takes a certain
level of “EQ”. In addition, networking matters. With the
exception of my job at Gilead, I got every other job I’ve
had by networking with others. There are a million great
scientists out there. What really stands out in industry are
these soft skills. Working in industry is a team effort and A diagrammatic representation of the hepatitis B
it’s ultimately what we look for when hiring. virion and the surface antigen components.

How do you maintain work-life Source: “Hepatitis B Virus”. 11 February 2019,


balance? Virology of University of Cape Town,
It’s really hard, and I think that’s true for anybody who http://www.virology.uct.ac.za/vir/teaching/linda-
works in this day and age. I have a spouse and a 7-year- stannard/hepatitis-b-virus
old child who I adore. I also love my job—it’s always a
give-and-take to find the right balance for everything. If
you have a significant other, having a true partnership
really matters. I’m fortunate to have a partner (also in the
pharmaceutical industry) who is in a true 50/50
relationship when it comes to needs at home.

Microbiologists at Work is a newsletter by the Microphiles at UW featuring a professional who uses


microbiology in their line of work. Intended to highlight the opportunities available in industry, we’re
always open to suggestions on who to interview next. Email us at microphiles@uw.edu or
ritao@uw.edu!