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Bridging Cultures, Breaking Barriers: WuXi AppTec Women Leading the Way in Drug Development

As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8—a day recognizing women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements—the stories of WuXi AppTec’s Lan Li and Amy Wu serve as inspirations. Having enjoyed successful careers in the pharmaceutical industry, they embody this year’s theme: #InspireInclusion.

The inception of International Women’s Day dates to the early 20th century, a period marked by industrialization, expansion, and social turbulence that laid the groundwork for a global day advocating for women’s equality. International Women’s Day’s roots are intertwined with the movements for women’s rights, labor laws, and suffrage, making it a day to reflect on and respect past struggles and a call to activate around current issues. Lan Li and Amy Wu know something about overcoming challenges.

For immigrants like Li and Wu, International Women’s Day is a reminder of women’s diverse contributions to science and technology, overcoming cultural challenges, and navigating professional landscapes in a foreign country. Their stories highlight the importance of inclusion and showcase how diverse perspectives drive innovation.

Bridging Cultures, Shaping Futures

Lan is the Vice President and Global Head of Bioanalytical and Central Lab Services at WuXi AppTec. Her journey is a testament to the power of education and the influence of a supportive family. Born to medical school professors, Lan’s curiosity and early fascination with medicine developed into a fierce ambition, propelling her from the halls of medical school to the forefront of drug research, hoping to address unmet medical needs on a global scale. At WuXi AppTec, she has played a crucial role in authorizing more than 120 drugs, underscoring her belief in the possibility of universal treatment and cure.

But Lan’s narrative is not just one of professional achievements. It’s a deeply personal story of juggling passions and prioritizing what’s important.

“I believe that women are strong; we can do anything we put our minds to,” Lan says. “My biggest challenges are balancing my role as a mother and a scientist. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned over the years is how to prioritize my life. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time. I am confident and content, even when life gets busy, because I know I spend my time on what matters most, whether work or family.”

Amy Wu is WuXi AppTec’s Director of Global Program Management. Loyal to her profession, Amy’s story unfolds like a carefully conducted experiment—meticulous, deliberate and driven by insatiable curiosity. Born and raised under the tutelage of professor parents in China, her home was a bastion of intellectual pursuits. Science wasn’t just discussed around the dinner table; Amy’s family lived it daily.

A keen chemistry student in China, Amy’s academic ability led her to Peking University and then to Texas’s Rice University, where she pursued a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry. There, amidst the advanced analytical tools and the cacophony of chemical reactions, her passion for drug development took root. Amy marveled at the elegance of transforming molecules into medicine, a puzzle requiring scientific acumen and endless collaboration.

However, Amy’s journey was not without its trials. Transitioning to life in the U.S. meant stepping out from the shadow of her parents and navigating the complexities of a new language and culture. Yet, this challenge is what sharpened her resolve and broadened her perspectives. Her career path, which led her from academia to the pharmaceutical industry and finally to WuXi AppTec, is a testament to her adaptability and determination.

“I think the challenges I have faced have made me a better person, scientist, and leader. Being a female immigrant born and raised in another culture has shaped a big part of who I am. They have improved my work ethic and increased my passion for science,” Amy says. “My background has encouraged me to be open-minded and curious. It has also encouraged me to think of human connections and how we can learn, understand, and support each other. We do better science together. United, we are one.”

Lan and Amy’s transitions from China to the United States detail unique journeys of adaptation and integration. The significance of International Women’s Day in the context of their stories extends beyond personal achievement; it underscores the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Their successes highlight the paths women can take to contribute to industries historically dominated by men.

Advocacy & Action: Beyond the Lab

Lan and Amy embody International Women’s Day through their scientific achievements and roles as mentors and advocates for women in science. Their commitment to mentoring young scientists, especially women, and advocating for inclusive work environments demonstrates how the fight for gender equality is reflected in the actions and decisions we take every day.

Lan stands as an inspiration for anyone looking to carve a path in the sciences. Her advice to young women who want to follow in her footsteps is simple yet profound:

“Believe in yourself. Be persistent. Most importantly, be passionate about what you love to do and be sure to enjoy life. Science has the power to change lives, and it is wonderful to be part of that. You, too, hold the key to making a difference in patients’ lives.”

Lan’s story is not just about the impact of one woman’s work on the field of medicine; it’s about how passion, combined with determination, can transcend boundaries, inspire change and pave future pathways. Amy’s story, on the other hand, is like a ballet. From benchtop to marketplace, every step in drug development must be planned and executed perfectly—and she’s the conductor.

Amy leverages keen attention to detail and chalks up her exceptional communication ability to her cross-cultural experiences. Her advice to women who want to be like her is direct and collaborative:

“Follow your passion in choosing a career path. I think we all want to make a difference and leave this world a better place. So, just know that we can all make a difference: one person, one project, one team at a time. Thinking that way makes things easier and makes us happier, as it is a source of empowerment and fulfillment. Never stop learning.”

A Final Word

Honoring these two remarkable women for International Women’s Day 2024 is an invitation to celebrate their achievements and the broader contributions of women in STEM fields. But it’s also a call to action. We must continue to recognize the existing barriers, support policies that promote gender equality, and champion diverse voices in all fields. Lan’s and Amy’s stories are reminders of the progress made and the work that remains to achieve a world where every woman can reach her full potential.

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