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A passion for the scientific side of medicine

Charlotte Aagaard and HPV virus

For some people, testing the same thing over and over – tweaking, refining and then trying again – would seem tedious. For Charlotte Aagaard, however, trial-and-error to obtain final results are what fuels her passion for her career.

“When at a certain time I was open for different opportunities, I worked with human papillomavirus (HPV) trials. The results were so amazing and it was so exciting to follow a drug to market,” says Charlotte Aagaard, Executive Director of Clinical Research for the Nordic and Baltic countries at MSD, referring to Gardasil, the MSD drug for HPV. “The exciting part of this project continues, and that got me all ramped up. Joining MSD several years ago aligned with my values.”

“With every team I worked with, I said ’this is the best’. I just believe in what I do.”

Her career path was neither surprising nor unusual, she says. She followed opportunities over time and got good results. “I broadened my experience and grew my relationships with every position I held. I loved it. With every team I worked with, I said ’this is the best’. I just believe in what I do.”

It is never too late to plunge into something

Her first career as a nurse sparked Aagaard’s interest in clinical trials, as she cared for patients needing treatment for specific conditions.

“I worked for several years in a hospital and that got me interested in the scientific side of medicine and the next step,” she says. “I think the path of getting medicine to people who need it is my favorite part; I get to see how patients can really benefit from our  treatments.”

“I think the path of getting medicine to people who need it is my favorite part.”

Aagaard, based in her native Denmark, was a clinical research associate for around three years, and was heading a team of international clinical project managers covering clinical operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa before taking on her current responsibilities in December 2018. Her career was on hold for a bit when her children were young, but she says it is never too late to plunge into something. “I try to do both my favorite things,” she says, referring to research and family.

Securing clinical trials

Right now, MSD is working on a broad spectrum of potential drugs, as well as vaccine candidates, including for COVID-19. “And, we’re leading within oncology clinical research across several indications,” explains Aagaard.
Seeing the growth and successful development of teams and people with whom she works, as well as creating opportunities also motivates her.

“That is a huge responsibility. It was amazing to see how team members reacted during the pandemic when hospitals were locked down,” notes Aagaard. “Our people stepped up to secure clinical trials. Although they could not go to certain places, they made sure everyone in the clinical trials was safe and no patient missed a dose of treatment. I was truly amazed.”

Spreading the word about Nordic strengths

In addition to bringing innovative, effective medications to patients, Aagaard enjoys spreading the word to stakeholders outside of the Nordic region about what these countries can offer within clinical trials and research.

“Because of the infrastructure [in the Nordic countries] we can always follow up with patients and it’s motivating to see how it all comes into play,” she says.

Aagaard believes that we need to clearly articulate the areas where we have strong capabilities in the Nordic and Baltic countries. ”It is a common challenge, how we can best employ innovation and attract clinical research. We have to make sure we are communicating that and translating it well,” she says.

Aagaard also states that the Baltic and Nordic nations are already positioned very well in the area of clinical research. Denmark, in particular, runs a high number of clinical trials, in part because the industry receives a lot of government support in terms of continuously improving the framework conditions for conducting clinical research.

Her hope is to make the region a leader in clinical research, in part by taking advantage of enhanced technology.

“When we look at what we could be and what we can contribute, we look at how we can use digital technology to expand research and make it more efficient,” she says. ”That includes informing patients, virtual consultations, giving them better information through videos and whatever other information we might have.”

Stay true to yourself

Outside of work, Charlotte Aagaard is married with two grown children, and is passionate about spending time with family and friends and being outdoors. “It’s where I find energy. I exercise in forests, and walk by water. I also enjoy traveling, cooking and reading; nothing uncommon or fancy,” she says.

“Stay true to yourself, don’t copy others and follow your passion if you really have an idea of what to do.”

For others thinking of pursuing clinical research, Aagaard recommends embracing a growth mindset and being ready for a shift in what people will need. “Stay true to yourself, don’t copy others and follow your passion if you really have an idea of what to do. When people reach out to me to explain what we do, that is what I appreciate the most.”

Image caption, left: 3D CG rendered image of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Capsid Structure based on PDB : 3J6R (capsomere)
Right: Charlotte Aagaard, Executive Director of Clinical Research, Nordic and Baltic countries, MSD