Meet Our Expert you will get to meet the talented people behind Cergentis' success on a personal level. In this interview, Kelly retraces her professional career, shares her motivation to join Cergentis, weighs in on our recent acquisitions by Solvias and gives a glimpse into our quality-related ambitions as well as corporate culture!
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I was born in Delft, and grew up in Pijnacker in the West of the Netherlands. I still live there today! Overall, I had a very relaxing childhood and used to spend a lot of time outdoors playing and doing sports.
What influenced you to pursue science?
Actually, no one in my family has a scientific background. My father was in finance and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. Science first came into the picture during high school. There, I was introduced to biology, and absolutely loved it! Biology and chemistry were among the classes I would always look forward to.
Before graduation, our school had organized an information night to help students with their next step, where representatives from various colleges would promote their respective institutions. One of them had organized a science experiment, which I found very interesting! I ended up applying and was accepted to continue my MLO studies at Het Reynevelt College in Technische Microbiologie.
Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do next?
After my final internship, the school advised me against going for higher education. Although I was a hard worker, they didn’t think I had what it took to succeed at university. And when someone tells me I cannot do something, that only motivates me to prove them wrong! So, I ended up attending Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and completed a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry.
What motivated you to start your career in industry after your study?
Nobody in my family went to university. My father learned on the job and climbed the ladder over time. He was and still is my influence, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Even though I had considered getting a higher degree, my partner and I also wanted to take our relationship to the next level, by settling in and buying a house. Therefore, finding a job provides more [financial] stability. I started working at Janssen and it helped me continue to grow intellectually as a scientist. In many ways, Janssen was my university.
What particularly attracts you to quality?
To be very honest, it wasn’t “love at first sight”! [laughs]. Quality grew on me in time. It’s an interesting anecdote to share. The first two weeks at Janssen, I was only reading procedures and quickly became bored. Already determined to switch to something else, I reached out to my team manager to ask if I could expect more from the position. She convinced me to “hang in there” for another month. And I’m glad I did! Because not only did I end up learning all the QC methods, but the company would also organize these big meetings with patients, where we’d get to see firsthand the impact of our work. To see and hear how life-changing Janssen’s products are and the importance and value of the work done in quality made the work feel extremely rewarding. I recall meeting this one patient who used to be in a wheelchair but was able to regain muscle control and walk again! This further fueled my passion and drive and gave a lot of purpose and meaning to the job. In the end, I’ve learned to embrace and appreciate quality much more.
Can you share some of the projects you were most proud of?
There were always a lot of opportunities to grow and join various groups or projects at Janssen. The organization also allowed me to set up my own projects. I was, for instance, responsible for introducing a new PCR test. On another occasion, I worked together with team members in the US to help introduce the new methods that they were developing and working on, in Leiden. Besides transferring these methods, that project also entailed getting the lab trained and doing the troubleshooting.
After 12 years, I transitioned to Janssen Vaccines, where I became Stability Manager, something that I was highly interested in. I had the chance to oversee about 30 batches of the Ebola vaccine and collaborating with an external lab, a CRO. Later, I also had the opportunity to manage a critical and reference material project. The work done there was significant, because we helped identify, introduce, and instruct a group of scientists to perform various important activities that were not yet in place. All in all, the opportunity to work in groups, with different people and helping to set up projects was a highly enriching experience.
When did you come across Cergentis and what made you join our team?
After more than 20 years at Janssen, I reached a point in my career where I felt ready for a new challenge. I then contacted Joke Ederveen [Senior Consultant at Edra Services] to ask if she might be aware of new opportunities elsewhere. It was her who put Cergentis on my map and connected me with Maaike van der Weij (Director of QA and RA). During our conversation, I learned that Cergentis was looking for a QA manager.
Maaike’s contribution has been instrumental in helping Cergentis set up a quality management system (QMS) as well as ensuring that our genetic QC services operate within a robustly reliable compliant framework, including ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accreditation. As she set up her own Quality team this year, how excited are you to become part of this journey and help take our quality to the next level?
I am excited and very much looking forward to helping set up processes! Again, helping improve or introduce new processes is what I enjoy the most. This year, validation studies and GMP are among our goals at Cergentis. Maaike did a great job at laying the foundations, but there are opportunities for improvement and I’m excited to see how far we can get in a year’s time!
Can you describe your responsibilities and share some developments?
I am the QA manager for the validation studies done by our R&D team. As mentioned, we are busy setting up the necessary processes, with the ambition of attaining GMP status. In parallel, I am also working on upgrading our equipments, helping to set up reporting templates for study plans and helping to train colleagues to work according to GMP-standards.
Prior to joining Cergentis, were you aware of our acquisition by Solvias? What opportunities do you think it will present for us in the future?
Absolutely. When Joke told me about Cergentis, I had also asked her all these questions. I was curious to learn more about who invested in Cergentis. It is a good match as both parties’ expertise is truly complementary. The synergy is undeniable! As for Solvias, it’s a very successful Swiss-based CRO/CDMO organization that has a global footprint and offers a broad portfolio of analytical services to its customers around the globe. Their decades of experience and ability to work at GMP-level is highly beneficial for us and will definitely further accelerate the process of attaining GMP status. Overall, with Cergentis becoming part of the Solvias group, I see a bright future ahead!
You’ve been here for 5 months now, what has surprised you the most?
Everyone here is really nice and helps one another! It truly feels like a flat organizational structure. My experience so far has been extremely positive and again, I’d say that kindness [of the people here] is what stands out the most.
Likewise, when I first visited Solvias’ facilities in Switzerland, I had this strong impression and sense of community. As I got to learn more and more and see the ins and outs of their operations, I became very impressed!
Outside of work, what are your favorite pastimes?
What I enjoy doing most is spending time and supporting my daughters with their favorite sports. We have a horse and our eldest does horseback riding. As for the youngest, she is very much into tennis. I used to be a tennis player myself and would play twice a week as well as participate in competitions during the weekends. However, it’s been many years since I last participated in competitions, I still try to attend my tennis lessons once a week, I still very much love the sport!