Almost eight years have past since Angela Sarro, who was spending her holidays in a village in León, picked up the call of Carolina Fernández for an interview to be recruited as Head of the Laboratories of Futureco Bioscience. Today, Angela is one of the most qualified and experienced professionals in the company, she has seen and contributed to the growth of the R&D Department from the time the company counted with just two labs and three people, to what it has become today, the greatest asset of the company with 14 people and five laboratories.
What do you think that made Futureco Bioscience choose you to join their team seven years ago?
When Carol Fernandez (Director of R&D) and Jose Manuel Lara (Technical Director) interviewed me, I think they appreciated that I already had the experience of working for PharmaMar in the research of antitumor compounds from the fermentation of marine microorganisms. It is much like finding Biological Control Agents (BCAs), but instead of being focused on plant health, focused on human health, and instead of being isolated from agricultural environments, from marine environments. They liked my profile because they saw that it could fit in what they were looking for, especially for biopesticides development. That was nearly eight years ago!
Almost eight years said soon. How was your experience during this time in the department?
I have evolved. Before I was in the Department of R&D, working in applied research to develop new products and in research of new microorganisms with various activities of interest for biological control. Now, with Jose Manuel, I work the regulatory aspects of the research, development and trade of our products, equally necessary and important.
In what exactly does consist your job?
I work primarily with patents and biopesticide products registrations in Europe. It's a job that requires a wide scope and scientific knowledge. Head. You have to explain with detail and in a rigorous way the life cycle and mode of action of the organism and how it behaves in all environments. The legislation is very demanding, so you have to demonstrate and tests how the life cycle of the organism can affect the context where its performed, present tests of efficacy, toxicology and ecotoxicology. It is important to understand the results and establish a connection between the different data that you have to justify or argue with scientific rigor, that the organism in question is not a threat to human health and either to the environment.
It sounds more to do with knowledge management coming out of the R&D and from other scientific sources.
Rather than manage, in some manner is to focus the information coming out of the labs.
You started as Head of the microbiology and biotechnology laboratories. Do you think you have evolved as most researchers as they assume more responsibility, moving from touching the laboratory benchtop to touching the pad?
I must say that I liked a lot my work in the lab. Before I had a job that was great for me because I had part time computer and part time of benchtop. It was a perfect balance, as you never get tired of any of the parts. Now I have much more computer work, but in the future it's planned I manage many of the tests to be done for registration, such as to know specifically what is the mode of action of a microorganism, if by parasitism, through the release of enzymes or metabolites or by resistance induction, as also the persistence of the same microorganism in different environments... It's really exciting!
How do you feel your experience in Futureco Bioscience has shaped you professionally?
Professionally, I have learned a lot because I started pretty green in the sector of agriculture. My previous career was more focused on the biomedical sector. I have learned how to manage a microbiology lab, for example, but also molecular biology and biotechnology. Also management of resources and information. Basically, I have learned a lot about management and science. Some time ago we did not have the methods nor the technology we have now. We had to work hard to innovate and perform methods adapted to our resources to run out an experiment.
And personally, what has your job in the company taught you?
I have learned, above all, about my defects. I think that without exposing myself to certain situations that were due to my responsibility in my job, maybe I would have never realized about some things I could improve and change in aim to be better as a person, I am conscious of this through my experience in the workplace.
How do you expect your work in the company in the short, medium and long term? What would make you happy or how would you like to be?
It makes me really happy to start new registrations with Futureco Bioscience's own microorganisms, because it involves an investigation in which I am very excited to participate. To see and study the mode of action and persistence of those microorganism, of which we have already talked about, the metabolites they produce, their genetic stability and demonstrating that they have no cytotoxic or genotoxic properties... It's very engaging. Also preparing the dossiers for registration requires a lot of information that must be presented in a comprehensive way. There are tests that I'm willing to do, as they generate me a lot of curiosity and I can't wait to see the results. I look forward to undertake these projects, that are indeed another big step forward for the company.
In what sense?
In the sense that we are not only registering those microorganisms isolated or that we have not discovered. It is the climax of the hard work of the entire team of R&D. I'm now at an advanced stage of a very long process that costs a lot and is a work of many years. Starting and finishing this project means that Futureco Bioscience has registered products in Europe that has isolated from the beginning. It is the tangible result, the smiling face to the world where the product is going to be used, based on the microorganism and technology of our company, and that has been the result of a huge effort on R&D. That is: Here is the result of our R&D for many years. It is the proof that it was worth it, because the R&D is very complicated.
Why is it complicated?
For research, especially that involving biology, biochemistry and biotechnology, two plus two doesn't always equal four. When you work with living organisms you have to adapt not only to their rhythms and cycles of life, but also to their variations and to variables that are difficult to control or even detect. When you have already selected the microorganism, you know it's effective, you have a prototype design, you test that is stable over time in different storage conditions, you realize suddenly that that the microorganism doesn't reach the same concentrations as it did before in its production in fermenters, and you have to find out until you reach the conclusion or cause. At that stage of development, you have to analyze and find out why and return to a point before. It's a lot of work to get to a final product and meet all the requirements for its release. When you are working with bacteria and fungi, you work with organisms that are alive, and the results don't only depend on you and your efforts, they depend on the microorganism, which has its own rhythms. It is a different research than that of inert systems, that have another problems, but perhaps are more predictable. See that you get a product, the whole process with all its difficulties and show it to the world is a great satisfaction.
And what would you like to do in the near future?
Continue with new patents and registrations, but as every organism is different, it's like starting a new project every so often.
Do you like it?
Yes, I'm slowly adapting and I'm enjoying it. I must admit that the change of structure of the R&D Department has supposed a major change in my work routine and how my life was structured. The change cost me a bit, but I am slowly enjoying it. Patents are very interesting, it's a continuously changing world and you have to spend all day by upgrading. Also with regard to scientific knowledge. You are constantly learning about new microorganisms that give you ideas that you can transmit and contribute with. It is very dynamic and it demands concentration and speed, and that's exciting too.
What do you value most about the company?
Right now I realize that what I value most is that management has provided me to reconcile my professional life with my family life. I have recently become a mother, and can continue to grow and develop in my professional life, I think very rich, without relinquishing my personal and family life, is very important for me. I am from Madrid, where the rest of my family lives. It's pretty hard to balance work and motherhood. In that sense the direction has had a gesture that is what I value most and what I am most grateful about working in this company.
Right now, almost the 40% of the company staff is personnel of R&D. This is not very common in the agrochemical sector. Do you think it's a good bet?
It is a perfect bet. I've noticed over time, that this scope of Rafael Juncosa (CEO) is great, as I really believe that having invested so much will give its results very soon. There are many more heads thinking. What a head doesn't get to, is reached by another, and so on a third. A tight-knit group is being created in the laboratories, where everybody counts, can provide and is important. That's an achievement of the team and of who manages the labs.
There is companionship and team communication.
Yes.We have created an environment where we are all important. Today I can be who suggests something new, tomorrow someone else can tell you could make something differently, and suggest an improvement. Each head has to be the one to think and propose alternatives, suggest solutions. That thing I'm not aware about because I'm to busy and focused in my work, can be seen by another person who is watching my work from a different perspective and suggest a different manner of doing or meeting the objectives we are all working on. Regardless of who is in each function, all R&D workers are important.
It is said that R & D is the greatest asset of Futureco Bioscience, and is advertised as an innovation machine. Do you think it is true that the new gears can get more product prototypes?
Yes. Little by little we are getting there.
Shifting to a more personal level and getting close to the end of this interview, do you recommend us something beyond scientific culture? What about music?
I like Metallica.
And some movie and book you'd like to recommend?
A movie that I love is "Untouchable" is very nice. It shows how someone can make you see life differently, and the book that excited me me most is "The Cathedral of the Sea".
What do you like to do most in your free time?
In my free time during the week ... I really like being with my Gordo (son) and my Happy (husband) and being happy too! drink beers with my friends... and enjoy a lot of my free time! On the weekends I like to travel to Madrid and stay with my parents, siblings, aunts... I'd love to spare every weekend in Madrid with them!