In the “Magnified” series, we take a closer look at the life experiences & career journeys that have shaped AbbVie’s leaders. Meet Jonathon Sedgwick who recently joined AbbVie as vice president and global head of discovery research. Jonathon has always been curious and developed his passion for science at a young age when he was inspired by a picture book on the story of penicillin. That passion led him to a career that would take him all over the world shaping his belief that great science is happening everywhere.
You joined AbbVie this past summer to lead our discovery research organization. Can you tell us what brought you here?
AbbVie is an outstanding biopharma company with a bright future ahead, so the idea of leading the discovery research organization was an exciting challenge and a great opportunity. After meeting with AbbVie leadership, I came away with a strong affirmation of the importance of science and research to the company’s future and even more importantly, that people at AbbVie were genuinely committed to improving the lives of patients through innovation in drug discovery. This type of commitment is very motivating for me as a scientist and leader.
You’ve lived all over the world throughout your career across academia, biotech and pharma. What has working in so many different places taught you?
It taught me that great science is happening everywhere. It also taught me to embrace and appreciate different cultures. My career has taken me all over the world, including Australia, where I’m originally from, the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Singapore. When you live in a new place, things are unfamiliar, so you learn to listen, be patient and humble. You also learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. These lessons have been vital to my ability to lead diverse teams, solve problems and find new opportunities.
What is your philosophy on research?
My philosophy has been the same throughout my career. I believe that, initially at least, you should follow your gut instinct on what is important and likely to make a difference. A good example of this was the initial work on the cytokine IL-23 my colleagues and I did at DNAX in the 90s. We knew almost nothing, but the initial activity data and its expression pattern felt unique. I put quite a large biology team on it and that turned out well, spawning the development of many medicines for inflammatory diseases, though of course not everything works out like that. After these ‘gold nuggets’ are uncovered, it takes scientific and clinical drug hunters with a knack for seeing the path to a potential new drug, to turn the early science into a medicine.