Yuqian Ma

What was your pre-DHC experience?

I’m an all-rounder, really, from academia to industry as well as medical research (my bachelor’s degree). My areas of specialty, if we’re using the Dark Horse service type “buckets,” range from Regulatory Support to Quality Systems, Manufacturing Support & Process Dev/Comparability to Financing & Diligence.

How did you find your way to Dark Horse?

I’d worked with Scott [Cross, DHC Principal] previously and he reached out to me to let me know about a hiring opportunity. It was in the middle of the pandemic, before a vaccine was rolled out, so on paper it seemed like an impossible time to change jobs. Sometimes just when you think you shouldn’t add any more variables to your life, though, you find a reason to do exactly that. I decided to go through the interview process and see what I thought at that point. And it turned out, I did want to make the choice to come here. It felt empowering, to take a chance on myself in the middle of an uncertain situation like COVID-19. It made me hopeful and excited again, to have something to truly look forward to.

What made working for Dark Horse attractive to you?

Obviously, the flexibility in location is a terrific win for almost anyone and unlike many companies that say they provide flexibility: here it’s built in to the role. I think we, as employees, also prepare ourselves to be flexible in return because obviously the work is always changing. We rise to each occasion and we receive the support we require to be able to be successful.

Besides, for someone who gets excited when there’s a problem to be solved, there’s no better fit. Dark Horse is where clients come when they need support; in other words, people come here for help. Since each client situation is different, we get the chance to really dig in to the details on each company, crafting support and solutions that match each unique need.

How would you characterize the choices you’ve made in your career to date?

I’ve always been attracted to what’s new, what’s beyond what we can learn from a book on the subject, and what I personally can offer to a patient. Much of that offering stems from an evidence-based approach—instead of just assuming that a prescription will meet a patient’s needs, for example, I want to learn from the experiences of others on that medication so that I can gather data and evidence to learn more about that particular Rx.

My mother spent her career as a clinician and she has continually encouraged me to never stop imagining what I can accomplish. Her encouragement to do as much as I can is part of what led me to cell and gene therapy rather than following in her footsteps and finishing medical school. I think of the therapy development side of things as my opportunity to scale up the degree to which I can help these patient populations.

Are there other ways in which you’ve followed in your mother’s footsteps?

We’ve had sort of a circular impact on one another when it comes to creative pursuits. I used to draw and paint, primarily ink and watercolor paintings, but since having a child I find I have less and less time to do that sort of thing. Whereas my mother picked up some wonderful hobbies after retirement, including formal drawing lessons. I enjoy seeing what she has drawn and it’s an important reminder that in the future I may be able to make time to pursue some of these activities that require more free time and more inner peace than someone with a young child typically has access to!

Are there any centering activities that you still have time for, between work and family?

I love to swim and that was one of the loses of the early days of the pandemic. Access to pools is returning gradually now so I’m able to enjoy some time spent swimming or in the sauna or steam room. I find that space and time to myself to be so relaxing. I taught myself to swim so I’m not exactly the most efficient swimmer! but I love the feeling of being in the water.

How long have you been based in the UK?

I came here eighteen years ago knowing nobody, but feeling driven to see the world. It was completely liberating! When you’re making a relocation choice based on schooling it makes living in another country no longer overwhelming because you have a built-in community just waiting for you. That move and those experiences helped me find my inner self so I would say my decision was a good one.

You have a long-distance relationship in the truest sense of the word. Tell us more about that!

My husband and I are very atypical in this way; we live 5,000+ miles apart! We met in high school and then he went to university in China and I came to London. We’ve been in a long-distance relationship in some form or another for almost 20 years and somehow, it works! We’ve always encouraged each other…even though we live apart, we still talk through all our life decisions together just like a couple who live in the same space would do. He is a pilot so he was going to be traveling a great deal regardless of where he is based. Before COVID he could fly to London every week or two but we haven’t been able to see each other since the pandemic started due to international restrictions at our various locations. That’s pretty sad for our family, but we’re trying to stay positive and enjoy video chatting so we can see one another’s faces. We have a son who is eight years old who lives with me and he loves every chance he has to see his father, of course!

I like to say that it works in large part because I like space to myself and having control over my surroundings. You know the joke about how OCD is wrong because it should be in alphabetical order: CDO? That sums me up quite well!

We’ll finish up by returning to cell & gene regarding regulatory since your profile is featured in our #DHCregulatory #deepdive! Are there any particular trends in regulatory practices that you’re seeing or expecting to see?

I think we’re either at or fast approaching a turning point, driven by medical need, in which high-quality CMC data is critical even in the earlier phases. As the industry matures, regulatory bodies are tightening their expectations, and rightly so. That means that the manufacturing process has to be quite robust, even in Phase I. I expect that this shift will ultimately strengthen our industry, which in turn will allow these therapies to reach a larger patient population. Playing a role in helping make therapy processes stronger means a lot to me, because it means I’ve been doing everything within my power to make sure life-saving/life-changing therapies get to those who need them.

As promised, another Yuqian Ma original!

Yuqian’s gorgeous ink watercolor painting of flowers

This is one of Yuqian’s gorgeous ink/watercolor paintings from the days when she had time to paint! Scroll down for another example of her work.

Yuqian’s gorgeous ink watercolor painting of trees next to a stream with mountains in the background

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