31 January 2023
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As part of our 'meet the team' series, we talk to Camille Terfve about her journey to becoming a patent attorney, her passion for new data-driven technologies and the rise of bioinformatics.

Computational biology is a relatively young discipline and one that only a handful of patent attorneys have an in-depth understanding of. Camille Terfve is one of them, having started out studying bioengineering before a love of maths drew her to undertaking a MSc in Computational Biology at the University of Cambridge.
She went on to complete a PhD on the use of high-content data to reverse engineer healthy and diseased cellular signalling networks, and the effects of drugs on these networks, before training as a patent attorney. 

“After my PhD it was time to find a job marrying my love of science and my need to get that bit closer to where science turns into new technologies. Becoming a patent attorney was the ideal choice – my work means I never know which new technology is going to come across my desk on any given day,” says Camille. “It’s an exciting time to be in bioinformatics, working with passionate inventors who are making new discoveries all the time, coming up with new ways to draw insights from data that we didn’t know were there.”

Camille has also worked in-house with clients, giving her the opportunity to be at the inception of new technology, working on the drafting and filing of the patent, right through to prosecuting that patent. “These are technologies that are hard to protect given their complexity and the difficulty in describing how they work,” she says. “Being able to do that successfully and then going on to see how the technology is used in the real world feels like a real achievement.”

Life enhancing technologies

In the future, explains Camille, data driven biology will become integral to healthcare. “We already see how the use and analysis of data has become central to areas of our everyday lives like retail. Ultimately the same will be true of healthcare, leading to better use of drugs, better diagnoses and treatments, potentially enhancing all of our lives.”

Bioinformatics used to be a niche field, studied as a minor part of other degrees such as computer science or bioengineering. We are now, says Camille, seeing more computational biology specific degrees. Camille hopes we will see a larger cohort of young people studying and working in this area, something that “would be great for the patent profession which needs more attorneys with this kind of expertise”.

Her background in academia means Camille often finds herself working with researchers she knew at Cambridge and on technologies she is already familiar with. “My quantitative expertise combined with my knowledge of biology is unusual and really helps me when I’m working alongside inventors,” she explains. “I speak the same language as them and so I can almost be ‘part of the team’. Every new project brings different challenges, so I’m never bored and am always getting the opportunity to learn new things.”

The UK is a big driver of innovation in bioinformatics – Cambridge, Oxford and University College London (amongst others) are hubs of excellence and there is a big push from government to develop data driven approaches in the biotech and pharma industries in the UK. “The UK, alongside Switzerland, Denmark and of course the US, is a real leader in the field,” explains Camille. “I deal with teams of inventors from all over the world but the talent in the UK and in Europe more generally is amazing, there are so many skilled and knowledgeable people.”

IP protection

From an IP perspective, the growth in bioinformatics means a greater number of patents being filed as more companies and academics enter the field and competition increases. “We are seeing traditional biotech and pharmaceutical companies pushing into this area and investing more,” says Camille. “Start-ups are emerging that are data driven from day one, rather than integrating data analysis later on in their development. Whatever their size, investing in IP protection is vital to their success and return on investment.”

Outside work, Camille is always moving, whether that’s chasing after her toddler or just running for the fun of it. She also enjoys cycling, swimming as well as baking for friends and family but if there is any spare time left - it’s always time, never energy that’s the problem! - Camille likes to keep her data and programming skills fresh by analysing patent-related data. “I like to identify trends and back up the observations I make from my own case load – who is filing what, what the patterns are in relation to oppositions, for example. As a data person to the core, I try to avoid making statements that I cannot back up with data, if I can!”

She has noticed an increasing diversity in terms of who are filing patents in this field, with “tech giants such as Google expending in the field, in addition to start ups, academic institutions, biotech and big pharma companies”. The broadening pool of companies putting stakes in the ground demonstrates what a dynamic area of science bioinformatics is. For experts like Camille, working in an area that is so fast moving and has so much potential to improve life sciences and healthcare in particular is a rewarding place to be.

Camille is a Partner and Patent Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. She does patent work in the life sciences sector, with a particular focus on bioinformatics/computational biology, precision medicine, medical devices and bioengineering. Camille has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute. Her PhD research focused on the combined analysis of various sources of high-content data to reverse engineer healthy and diseased cellular signalling networks, and the effects of drugs on these networks. Prior to that, she completed a Master’s degree in Bioengineering at the University of Brussels and a Masters in Computational Biology at the University of Cambridge.

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