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Elaine Jones, medicines development leader, UK, hero

Following the journey of a respiratory medicine

Meet Elaine Jones – she’s a medicines development leader based at GSK House in London. Here she explains how her passion for helping respiratory patients live every breath motivates her in developing new medicines.

Occupying pride of place on a wall in Elaine’s office is a quote from a COPD patient she met at a scientific meeting,

“If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

It reminds Elaine every day that her job is about making life easier for people who are living with respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD. 

She explains: “Those words had a profound effect on me and I try to remember them through the ups and downs of developing a new drug – they truly inspire me to do what I do.”

Elaine Jones, with members of her team at GSK House, London
Elaine Jones, with members of her team at GSK House, London

New medicines: from idea to real-life treatment

Elaine’s role is to lead the development of new Respiratory medicines. “I’m like a champion for the new medicine,” says Elaine, who heads up a team of people representing each part of a medicine’s journey from research to real life.

“A medicine starts as an idea in the mind of a chemist or a biologist. We then research it and collect data.”

The drug development process can take anywhere between 10 to 12 years from the moment we see a molecule that has promise, to it becoming a medicine. Thousands of scientists, statisticians, regulators, and representatives from across GSK are involved.

Elaine’s job is to ensure everything is aligned and working together so the complex process runs smoothly. “You’re all working together with the aim of making the product available for physicians to prescribe and for patients to benefit from.”

A medicine is taken through a number of research phases to assess how well it targets the medical need in question. Elaine’s team compiles this data as the molecule progresses along its development journey.

If a developed medicine shows strong clinical benefit (after approximately seven years of research), Elaine can make submissions to regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the UK. These agencies will assess the data and decide whether the new medicine should be made available to a specified patient group.

Research and development scientists, Stevenage, GSK
Research and development scientists, Stevenage, GSK

The path to medicine development leader

Elaine’s vocational background makes her uniquely placed to oversee this multi-layered journey of a medicine. She initially trained as a pharmacist, and began her career with GSK working in sales, then product management, before moving into regulatory affairs.

It was here she built relationships with the agencies who approve medicines, which helped her develop a better understanding of the evidence they need to see in order to grant regulatory approval.

“I sat on project teams and dealt with everybody — the scientists who developed the medicine, worked on the manufacturing and the development of the product. I absolutely adored it.”

But after 18 years in the role, Elaine felt it was time for a new challenge, and the role of medicines development leader seemed tailor-made. A key element of her role is to push the development process forward, overcoming obstacles and asking how things could be done differently.

Her ultimate goal is clear:

“It’s all about getting the medicine to the patient as quickly as possible, with the right data.”

The changing landscape of medicines approval

The approval process for new medicines has changed a great deal in the last two decades.

The journey has become much more structured, with more discussions and greater transparency between the pharmaceutical industry and the regulators.

This shift has had a positive outcome for the industry and for patients; “allowing us to bring medicines to patients sooner,” Elaine explains.