Dace Dizma-Jones

Deputy Head of Northern Powerhouse Life Sciences: Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals

Dace Dimza-Jones is the Deputy Head of Northern Powerhouse Life Sciences: Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals for the Department for Business Trade. Her responsibility is to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and further develop, grow and evolve the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, MedTech, healthcare, academic and clinical collaborations among and across the Northern regions and the North of England as a whole.

Tell us more about your role at the Department of International Trade.

I play a significant part in increasing investment into the North of England and help the region achieve ambitions, aligned to levelling up priorities, focussing on the Life Sciences sector. I work closely with overseas businesses, matching them to opportunities, and supporting and advising them on setting up or expanding their business in the North. I engage with both new and existing investors and attract investment through collaboration with regional partners. This involves matching investors with current opportunities, connecting investors with industry contacts, identifying suitable investment locations, and organising regular inward and outward investor delegations to the North of England. Whilst doing this, I always keep the needs of the population and addressing the health inequalities at the forefront.

What do you enjoy most about working in your sector?

Working at the Department for Business and Trade gives me opportunities to interact with companies and innovators from across 170 countries and regions. The most enjoyable part of my job is the opportunity to learn how different health and life sciences systems operate globally and how innovations are adopted and perceived across the globe. Interacting with new investment markets have widened my horizons and taught me a lot about the different cultural contexts globally. I have learnt to acknowledge and appreciate the important role the cultural and social factors play during the transfer of innovation and life sciences solutions. When interacting with potential investors I make sure that I not only learn all about their innovations but also engage with them on a human and cultural level. I find it very important to understand the person behind the product and investment. Two days are never the same for me and this not only gives me a professional satisfaction but also personal fulfilment.

How important is innovation within your sector?

Innovation is the foundation of everything I do, as it is the only way how we can keep improving to make a real difference. That said, it is also important to stop and reflect, – to understand what our ecosystem already offers and what is needed to grow and improve. Each region and each country approaches innovation differently and has their own take on it. Therefore, when I attract companies to the North of England, I need to understand how foreign innovations from, for example,  India, USA or the Nordic countries will be adapted here. There is always a lot we can learn, innovation across the social care setting in the Nordic countries being one example, and it is my job to show how, by investing in the North, everyone involved can benefit.

We are fortunate to have a fantastic NHS, enthusiastic clinicians, world-class academics, supporting organisations, such as the NIHR, a thriving science and innovation ecosystem along with private and public funding opportunities. All these elements support our entrepreneurs and innovators to set up their life sciences companies and allow them to bring their innovations closer to patients and the population at the North of England. We are world-leading in so many therapeutic areas, but we cannot afford to be arrogant and think that we are the best at everything.

My recent trip to India impressed and inspired me very deeply. Conversations with Indian life sciences companies showed me that we have so much to learn from them and, in so many ways, they are ahead of us. I feel satisfaction and enjoyment about my work when I secure a foreign businesses to collaborate with our Northern experts, resulting in companies establishing their presence across our ecosystem. It helps us to work towards addressing our region’s health inequalities, whilst also making it richer and more diverse both in a cultural and monetary sense. I do not think that the investment across health and life sciences can only be measured by job creation and millions of Pounds attracted. The true value of the investment comes from the impact the innovations and improvements to health and social care is brought by the investors.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

The moments I am most proud is when, by following my professional instincts, I nurture a company to establish their presence in the UK. Seeing these companies coming to the North of England, starting very small and growing, contributing to the NHS and our academic collaborations, and linking with key people, that’s the biggest satisfaction for me. I am now at the age where I do not look in the mirror and admire my own success, the best feeling I get is when our regions succeed, and the Northern cities thrive, and I have been a part of it.

I believe I have managed to bring the Northern Life Sciences ecosystem a little closer together, facilitated collaboration between organisations and local regions, and by doing this have contributed to the national levelling up agenda.

Personally, I see the opportunity to collaborate with generous, intelligent, and truly amazing key opinion leaders across the life sciences ecosystem as one of my biggest successes. Their generosity and kind support have taught me gratitude, resistance, and appreciation. 

What are the challenges of being a woman working in your sector?

I think it is the feeling of guilt. My job is very intense and  I have to travel quite a lot, and sometimes the work days are not eight hours,  they’re much longer. Having a family to be a part of, and not just my children or my husband but also parents and friends, the guilt is something that, if you are not careful, will tear you apart. I find you just have to find the ways to deal with the guilt.

I, sometimes, also feel it professionally. From the life sciences investment perspective, I look after population of approximately 16 million people. Itis a huge responsibility and it often requires me to be at four places at the same time. There will always be a colleague, region, or organisation that, I feel, I will let down by not being able to visit or pay enough attention. I try to be with my community as much as I can but that means a lot of commuting. This takes me back to feeling my personal guilt. I absolutely enjoy traveling around the world and across the regions, but this means that I have to make sacrifices on the time spent with my family. Not being able to put my children in bed and sing them a lullaby in the evening is the hardest.

What advice would you give to other women working in your sector?

You are stronger than you think!

Also, if you have a nice, friendly, empathic network around you, you will have strong, supportive and encouraging people to rely on when you need their help. Everyone at some point, even the strongest people, need someone else’s shoulder to balance them.

There is so much one can gain by giving. Be kind and supportive to colleagues around you, be generous by sharing your knowledge and give encouragement to those who need it.

What would you say are the key challenges in your sector that create a barrier to innovation moving forward?

Competition and solo working. We need to be more collaborative if we want to gain more and faster. I witness competition between organisations, companies and regions on a daily basis but if we would focus more on our shared values and common goals we would all benefit.

When it comes to attracting investment in health care sector and supporting innovators to get access to NHS, I see that there is a large gap between research active NHS workforce and health and social care staff that deliver standard of care but are not aware of innovations. It would be great if every hospital trust, GP practice, community pharmacy and social care institutions would be research active and ready, or at the very least was aware of the potential opportunities. This would allow us to attract even more investment, alongside with innovations, that could significantly improve patient care, health outcomes, diagnose and predict diseases early and help relieve the pressure of health and care colleagues.

Do you find any particular challenges working in the North of England?

I feel privileged to have an opportunity to help to attract FDI to the North of England.

The greatest challenge for me is the constant competition within the region. I have to admit that some of the Northern Regions have been excellent team players and put their population needs first and the collaboration has helped them to succeed, establish an excellent international reputation and allowed them to secure an increased amount of FDI. In my opinion, being friendly, kind and collaborative is the way forward.

There are so many superwomen across the North and among our local populations. They are not always acknowledged, noticed or even visible but they are doing fantastic work for their neighbours, local communities, and the region to thrive. They are the women who will help other women and men to succeed and will not care about their personal recognition. I think we all know who they are, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the women around me for the encouragement, support, kindness and inspiration they have and keep on gifting me.

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