Expanding our commitment to research and the future of cancer care

Sophie Mepham PHD / 20 May, 2020

Introducing Icon Group’s new Executive Manager of Research – Sophie Mepham PhD

At Icon, we proudly offer Australia’s largest private cancer clinical trials program – providing hope and opportunity for cancer patients now and into the future. It is these trials and the doctors and patients involved today, that advance the way we can treat cancer tomorrow.

This International Clinical Trials Day, Icon is proud to introduce Sophie Mepham PhD as our Executive Manager of Research. With a personal history of cancer in her family, Sophie is committed to ensuring everybody, no matter where they live, has access to the best possible cancer treatment.

For Sophie, Icon’s vision of treating as many people as possible, as close to home as possible is something she holds close to her heart; “I know how important that is.” Learn more about Sophie and her commitment to a brighter future in this Q&A.

Have you always been passionate about oncology and research?

From a young age, I have always wanted to work in the field of biology. From my very first human biology lesson at school, I knew it was for me. When I was in my final year of my biology degree at Sussex University, my parents were both diagnosed with cancer six months apart from each other. I spent a lot of time caring for them during that time, and when they both went into clinical trials I would drive my mum 300km a day for five weeks to get her to treatment. It was a difficult time and it taught me how important it is to have clinical trials available close to home. Following their treatment, both of my parents are well and living cancer free 26 years later. Living that experience through my parents was the reason that I wanted a career in oncology research.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

After achieving my PhD, I worked in haematology clinical trials for the first eight years of my career at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.

A GCP inspection can be extremely challenging and involves a huge amount of preparation and planning in addition to on-site inspections, document review sessions and staff interviews. A successful inspection ensures trial participant safety is of foremost importance and all decisions are based on robust data, showcasing the capability and experience of an organisation.

One of the most difficult tasks is ensuring clinicians, nurses and managers recognise the seriousness of this inspection and work together to achieve a successful result. I learned a huge amount about clinical trials and leadership during this experience, having brought so many people together from diverse backgrounds to collaborate over a short period of time.

Collaboration is such an important part of successful clinical trials and forms the foundations of potentially life changing research. It’s this sort of detailed auditing, policy and ethics that enables us to offer more clinical trials and ultimately benefit patients of today and tomorrow. At the end of the day it is a very rewarding feeling.

What brought you to Australia?

I woke up one day, close to turning 40, and knew I wanted to do something really different and exciting! I applied to a position at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the rest was history. I planned to move back to the UK after a year but fell in love with Australia and have been here ever since. Coming from the UK, which had a very strong research focus, I was able to bring these skills and English ways of thinking to launch the GCP program at Peter Mac. This wasn’t just about clinical trials but embedding that holistic culture to make research a focus for everybody.

Why was launching one of the first GCP programs in Australia so important?

Having the ability to bring a high level of training to people through one of Australia’s first GCP programs, adapted from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) in the UK, was really exciting.

I love teaching and have been a university lecturer and GCP training consultant throughout my career, so to dedicate my skills, knowledge and experience to GCP at Peter Mac gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. GCP is vital for a research program to reduce risk, protect clinical trial patients and ensure quality data. In everything, I focus on embedding a cohesive sense that every patient should have the opportunity to access the best possible care.

It doesn’t matter what your role is within the company, having everyone on board with this mission is so important and this has to come from the top. In this role, I am able to take everything I have learnt and carry it forward to raise the profile of clinical leadership, and that’s a goal I stand by in everything I do.

What drew you to the position of Icon Executive Manager of Research?

Given my background in haematology, to have the opportunity to work with a company that focuses on haematology in addition to oncology research, across both medical and radiation, and is willing to treat patients with complex disease is incredibly significant.

I don’t shy away from hard work and being part of some of the most challenging research through Icon’s phase 1 clinical trial program is a real draw.

The vision of treating as many people as possible, as close to home as possible is really personal for me and I know how important that is for so many families across the world. As the team at Icon have built a strong domestic research program, I can now come in and look at where we can go next globally, rather than building it up from scratch.

What do you hope to achieve at Icon?

I’m looking forward to taking the model of research Icon has already established in Brisbane across Australia and New Zealand, and eventually across Icon’s Asia sites. There is a huge opportunity for the private sector in Australia to become significant players in research globally, especially now with the US considerably slowing down research in light of COVID-19.  As a global company with a strong research commitment and presence, Icon has the ability to take this to the next level and roll trials out across multiple sites and countries simultaneously.

Icon’s move into China really drew me in. It is such a significant achievement for an Australian healthcare company and shows an endless tenacity to help more people where it is needed most. I’m eager to explore new opportunities in these regions and bring a greater level of care and a sense of hope to these communities in need. Post COVID-19, my vision is to position Icon as leaders in oncology and haematology clinical trials and use the effectiveness of our research program which has been tried and tested in Australia as a model across New Zealand and Asia.

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