Acuitas: (noun) insight, perception, sharpness.

Dr. Ghania Chikh: Expertise, Experience and Engagement with the Team!

The Acuitas team consists of brilliant, talented and experienced scientists and business professionals who are also interesting, engaging and fun-loving. This is just one of the many things that makes us unique at Acuitas.

For Acuitas, the word “team” isn’t based on marketing or recruitment speak; it’s at the foundation of who we are as a company. Everyone at Acuitas – from the senior executives to the newest employee – plays a proactive role in contributing to our positive culture. Senior Director, Vaccine Development, Dr. Ghania Chikh, is a perfect example of this – even though she is based in Ottawa and most of the team is in Vancouver. Time zones and thousands of miles mean nothing to Dr. Chikh. From the moment she joined Acuitas, she has been a big part of our positive work environment. Of course, it helps that she is at the Vancouver workspace/lab often. No matter where she is, Dr. Chikh is a great collaborator, always helps to lift others up, and participates in team-building and other fun events.

What many people don’t know about Dr. Chikh is that, for how successful her career is, she didn’t start out dreaming of being a drug development scientist. Early on, she wanted to be a medical doctor – like several family members, including her uncle and brother. However, she soon discovered that she was not comfortable with the sight of blood and needles (and even fainted a couple of times!) and had to rethink her career path. That is when she turned to scientific research as another way to contribute to human therapeutics – and the rest, as they say, is history. She turned her focus to biotechnology and drug development and has built an impressive career resume.

With over 23 years in drug development, Dr. Chikh has worked with big and small pharmaceutical companies, which allowed her to gain expertise in all areas. Several therapeutics she was involved with made it to the clinic to treat patients with various conditions including cancer, infectious diseases, as well as inflammatory illnesses and traditionally underserved or challenging diseases. Her career path found Dr. Chikh in increasingly senior roles in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, leading non-clinical drug development activities, generating investigational new drug-enabling studies, and submitting applications for clinical trials. She has extensive experience in developing vaccines and therapeutics to mount efficient immune responses against such varied conditions as allergies, infections, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Dr. Chikh has earned a global reputation as a change-agile and strategic leader with outstanding interpersonal skills. She brings these skills to her role as Acuitas continues to innovate, sitting firmly in its position as the global leader in lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology. She also genuinely loves to support other scientists and science-adjacent business professionals, which creates the ability to connect, mentor and collaborate with all of the employees on the Acuitas team. Dr. Chikh always finds time to contribute and volunteer in our communities – both locally and globally. In fact, she jumped in as a part of an Acuitas group that recently ran in the BMO Vancouver Marathon. Dr. Chikh ran a half-marathon with several colleagues, helping to raise $3,518.58 for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver Fraser.

Spending time with colleagues outside of work helps to build strong relationships – and this benefits everyone, including patients. Dr. Chikh explained that this is one of the advantages of being at Acuitas. She said: “Life is made up of more than work hours. It’s key to respect your colleagues and get to know them as people. It makes the challenging times easier, the fun times so much better and, importantly, helps to get therapeutics closer to patients’ bedsides.”

Before joining Acuitas, Dr. Chikh’s career included serving as a Senior Director of Non-Clinical Development at Vasomune Therapeutics, Inc. Considered a “star” by the CEO, this is a role that she is very proud of. Within a year of being hired during the COVID-19 pandemic, she generated all non-clinical investigational new drug enabling studies and regulatory documents allowing the company to successfully obtain FDA approval and initiate a first-in-human clinical trial. Before that, Dr. Chikh was a Senior Director of Pre-Clinical Research at EnGene Inc., where she managed the development of a non-viral gene therapy for localized expression of immunomodulatory proteins in mucosal tissues for inflammatory diseases and cancer treatments. She was also a senior member of the R&D team for Pfizer Inc., where she developed vaccines against infections, allergies, addictions and cancers.

At Acuitas, Dr. Chikh oversees the vaccine development program, working closely with Acuitas’ global partners. She also leads internal programs that identify, develop and optimize the proprietary Acuitas LNP delivery technology to support next-generation mRNA LNP therapeutics. It is worth mentioning that Dr. Chikh’s PhD thesis was about cancer vaccine development using liposomes to deliver tumour-associated antigens, an evolution from the current LNP and mRNA platform, thus she has come full circle.

Given her extensive responsibilities at Acuitas, it would be easy to assume that Dr. Chikh is all work, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She loves to explore, participate in outdoor activities, find great new restaurants, socialize and travel. Dr. Chikh is always in some stage of planning for a trip – or she’s on one!

Dr. Chikh admits that since she did her PhD in Vancouver and lived there for about a decade, she is thrilled to be back in the mountains. As much as she loves Ottawa, it really isn’t fair to compare the hiking options there to the majestic mountains of B.C. Dr. Chikh says that she has been searching for some great hikes since leaving Vancouver and – while she did find some in Newfoundland – she is delighted to be hiking in B.C. again.

Dr. Chikh’s approach to science, collaboration, innovation and connection is an excellent example of the Acuitas culture. In this positive work environment, more experienced team members engage regularly with less experienced employees to inspire and support the next generation of scientific leaders. In addition, the newer scientists can do some reverse mentoring, helping the whole team to learn about a range of things from a different perspective. Everyone learns new things – making it a win-win.

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