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Ranmali Nawaratne | The Francis Crick Institute

Translating medical research to benefit health

The word ‘translation’ has many meanings. For Ranmali Nawaratne, Senior Business Manager in the Translation Team at The Crick, it’s about working with researchers and a range of other stakeholders to drive fundamental scientific discovery towards improvements in human health.

She recalls her interest as a teenager in applying biotechnology to benefit others: “I was interested in plants and loved the idea of helping people in famine-hit countries by growing crops there modified for resilience.”

Ranmali Nawaratne - knowledge exchange
“It’s good that research translation is high on the strategic agenda in the UK and that the concept is becoming embedded in scientists’ consciousness.”

From biology to biomedicine

Ranmali’s first degree, in biochemistry with biotechnology at Royal Holloway University of London, included industrial training at Unilever. Then she was offered a funded PhD position but turned it down. “I decided I wanted to learn more techniques and medical applications so enrolled on a lab-based masters in biochemical research at Imperial College.”

This was followed by PhD research at Cambridge into the molecular mechanism of insulin resistance. “Part of me has always been quite practical,” she says, “I realised during my PhD I wanted a job in technology transfer since it focuses on applying science. Cambridge encourages entrepreneurship and offers students many relevant courses and societies. It was great to be there.”

Building a team for YES

One day in 2002, during the second year of her PhD, she saw Biotechnology YES advertised. “None of my friends at that point had done YES, but I was keen to go, so I pestered people in my lab until three others joined me.” They did some preparation but Ranmali says: “We were probably terrible.”

“We struggled at first and got bogged down in detail before basing our hypothetical business on genetically modifying cut flowers using arctic jellyfish proteins to withstand colder temperatures – reducing waste in the supply chain.” She remembers it vividly as a “full-on” experience and “quite scary” but she felt “invigorated”.

Ranmali joined MRCT in early 2005 as part of the Technology Transfer Division. She has managed IP for Medical Research Council units, tracked IP for smaller medical research charities and has been the IP contact on drug discovery project teams from MRCT’s Centre for Therapeutics Discovery. “MRCT has grown hugely over the last 10 years with an evolving strategy, allowing scope for continued learning and new experiences.”

Top impacts

IP and translation
Ranmali has gained and applied expertise in due diligence, IP protection, patent management, IP development via proof-of-concept funding, marketing, commercialisation, project management, and translation strategies.

Sharing knowledge
After 10 years in technology transfer at Medical Research Council Technology (MRCT), in 2015 Ranmali was seconded to the Francis Crick Institute to assist in setting up and delivering its translation strategy.

Measuring impact
Appreciating foundational research, the many ways of measuring success and how vital it is to choose the right approaches to evaluation, she says: “It’s good that research translation is high on the strategic agenda in the UK and that the concept is becoming embedded in scientists’ consciousness.”

More information

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