Portrait - Hélène Chautard, Director of Innovation and Technology Transfer at Imagine

Hélène Chautard has recently joined Institut Imagine as Director of Innovation and Technology Transfer. Her mission is to contribute to the Institute's strategy in terms of innovation, industrial partnerships and entrepreneurship, and also to participate more generally in Imagine's roadmap programmes and in the strategy for accelerating innovation in health. Throughout her career, particularly interested in the development of innovative therapies, Hélène has moved from the world of start-ups to that of the pharmaceutical industry, and has worked to facilitate collaborations between the academic world and the private sector. She tells us about her career and the challenges of her job.

Published on 01.06.2022


What was your journey to the Imagine Institute?

I am a scientist by training, with an engineering degree in biological engineering, a DEA in molecular physiology and genetics, and a PhD in molecular and cellular biology. After my thesis on a very fundamental subject, I turned to the private sector to join a start-up specialised in protein engineering, Biomethodes, as a project manager.

I then joined the AFM-Telethon, first as R&D project manager responsible of viral vector engineering at Genethon, then as Director of Studies, with responsibility for carrying out preclinical regulatory and quality control studies at Genosafe for innovative therapy drugs in preclinical and clinical development. These experiences were my first contact with gene therapy and translational research, subjects that I will be keen to develop in the future.

Curious to discover the "big pharma" environment, I joined Sanofi, first as Analytical Development Group Manager on the R&D side, then as Biology Department Manager within the Biotech Quality Control of Industrial Affairs. I learned a lot from this experience, and discovered the other end of the chain with the constraints and challenges of producing a drug at the commercial stage.

In 2017, I took responsibility for the Life Sciences division of SATT Paris-Saclay, managing the portfolio of technological offers resulting from innovations from academic laboratories in the Paris-Saclay cluster. In 2020, I became Director of Investments in Life Sciences, responsible for the strategy of technology transfer in this field. This experience, which was extremely enriching, was a turning point in my career, with a focus on innovation and technology transfer in a structure where everything had to be built with the sole aim of facilitating technology transfer between academic research and the industrial world.

Why did you join Imagine?

The position I have been offered is a good combination of my scientific skills, my managerial experience and my experience in the development of public research. It allows me to make a real contribution to the Institute's innovation strategy, as the translational research activities developed here require integration into the development strategy as early as possible in the implementation of projects. The Institut Imagine is a flagship of biomedical research, with the IHU and Carnot Institute labels. The scientific excellence that the Institute represents, as well as its research and care theme centred on genetic diseases and the development of innovative therapies, particularly speaks to me and is very promising in terms of innovation, with significant potential for development. Finally, the organisation of research close to the patients gives an additional meaning to the Professional commitment.

What do you particularly like about this job?

Valorisation is at the crossroads of different subjects: science, of course, but also business development, legal affairs, intellectual property, project management and entrepreneurship, for example. This job brings together a wide range of skills, which makes it very rewarding. Contact with scientists, researchers and doctors is both essential and absolutely fascinating.

What do you think are the challenges for the department?

One of the major challenges of the Innovation and Technology Transfer Department is to gain a detailed understanding of the research projects carried out in the Institute. There is a need to maintain proximity and trust between the development teams and the research teams in order to bring out high-potential projects, to convince the research teams of the usefulness and relevance of taking their work towards a patent, a partnership, clinical development or the creation of a start-up, and to call on us to assist them in their search for funding and partners.

A good understanding of the scientific and medical aspects, but also of the regulatory and industrial aspects of innovative therapies, is in my opinion essential to develop and implement credible and relevant valorisation strategies. Understanding the challenges of technology transfer and public-private partnerships in a complex ecosystem is just as important. This is the role of our department.