Dr Terri Gaskell – Chief Operating Officer

What is your role?

I am Rinri’s Chief Technology Officer. It’s not one of the standard roles, although it is becoming a bit more common in biotech now. It is a hybrid of the strategic and operational functions and my job is to ensure that we tread the charted strategic course we have set out for the company, bringing teams and individuals back on track if they start to veer a little. I keep an eye on that final goal, ensuring everything we do is mission critical and that we don’t use up precious time and resource doing things which are not absolutely essential.

I came to Rinri to fill a bit of a gap in the translational space. Marcelo (Rivolta – founder and Chief Scientific Officer) and his team have got all the fantastic academic research and the intricate biology knowledge but what was missing was the translational experience: knowing the big picture and being able to put all the pieces together to create a clinical programme.

How did you come to the role? 

I was familiar with Marcelo’s work through my work with the Cell & Gene Catapult.

When I was looking to move on, I wanted to go into a small biotech firm where I could perform this all-encompassing role and use the experience I had gathered to try and drive something to the clinic. Rinri seemed to tick all my boxes as it was an early-stage therapy, it was stem cells, and it was at the point at which I thought all the experience that I’d gathered might actually make a difference.

I knew a few people who were involved – cell therapies is a small world – and it came up in conversation and in working events, that they were looking for a COO. This was right at the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, and I was a bit hesitant at first, because of the location – I live in London and the company’s based in Sheffield – and I didn’t think they’d want someone working remotely. Clearly the world has turned on its head since then and it works just fine.

It took a while to work through what the role would look like and if it was the right role for me. I think for such a small team, the personalities are important, and I wanted to know I could get on with the people. But it felt like a good fit on all sides really and I eventually joined in November 2020.

Describe a typical day in your working life.

No two days are the same. My work includes reviewing contracts, looking at data and I have some line management responsibilities now too, although the team are great and just get on with it, which is fantastic.

I do a lot of problem solving too. Sometimes I spend days on end speaking to shippers and couriers who’ve got things stuck in customs – whatever needs doing to keep things moving. And then there are the day-to-day operations: I attend conferences, give presentations, chair sessions, it’s a real mix. I often switch from one thing to another over the course of the day: we’re talking about clinical now, we’re talking about pure research next – it jumps around a fair bit which I quite like.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

One challenge is understanding the limitations and constraints from an application point of view, and making sure those things come together and we are making a product that can actually be used in the clinic. That is a challenge for cell therapies in general, because they are not standard pharmaceutical agents you can just take off the shelves.

The regulatory challenge is also significant. So, keeping abreast of what’s coming out, what’s new, what’s relevant, looking at perhaps what other people are doing and what challenges they face is crucial. We need to ensure that we learn from other people’s mistakes and don’t make the same ones – we’ll probably make new ones but try not to make the same ones that other people have made!

There isn’t a well-trodden path for any of this, so sometimes you do have to be a bit creative. But it makes it all the more exciting.

How do you think or hope that the work will impact the hearing loss community?

Certainly, with our first product we’ve identified an unmet medical need, and hope that we can offer something to a subset of patients that really have no clinical options. I think with the number of people that are impacted by hearing loss, it seems a bit crazy that there is nothing for them.

It’s the most obvious indication for cell therapy as well. It’s a very simple paradigm that we replace the cells that are lost or damaged and it could be life changing for some of these patients if we get it through. I think that’s probably what most of us that went into science, went into it for, especially life science: to do something meaningful and to do something that would actually have a positive impact. I feel like we’ve got a real opportunity to do that with what we are doing at Rinri.

How do motivate and retain your team?

I’m big on team building and people feeling valued. It is crucial that everyone knows that no matter what their position is in the team, they are critical to reaching the end point, and everyone’s contribution is important. And also that they are trusted to just get on with it.

For me it’s about recruiting the right people and just letting them do their job. I don’t like to micromanage or interfere, but just really give people the space to be creative in their own experience. I think what I’ve done in all the teams I’ve ever led is try and understand people on a personal level, know what motivates them and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and try to give them the opportunity to develop and learn.

What is important to you?  What are your personal values?

When I was at the Catapult, we had a fantastic coach who helped us all understand that you can’t be good at everything, but if you understand what your personal values are, you will probably always be motivated and fulfilled. What motivates me is the opportunity to do something that will fundamentally make a difference and have a positive impact on people’s lives. And I really get that from my work at Rinri.

In terms of values and beliefs: teamwork, collaboration, honesty and integrity are really what matter to me, and I wouldn’t stay somewhere where I didn’t feel that I was valued and that everyone else was being valued and supported as well. The job’s hard enough, and we can all make it a pleasant and fun experience if we are pulling in one direction.

Why should people trust Rinri?

Everyone at Rinri does what they are doing for the right reasons: everyone wants to generate the best product that they can, that will actually have a positive impact on patients’ lives. We’re not cutting corners, we’re doing all the safety testing, we understand the risk profile of our product and we’re doing everything we can to address that. We will do our best to make this the safest and most efficacious product that we can.