In this article, we shine the spotlight on Dr Olca Huijsmans. Olca joined NDA in 2018 and specialises in helping clients across a wide range of products in various developmental stages during interactions with the EU regulatory authorities. Her vast range of scientific as well as operational regulatory expertise allows her to successfully take on both a strategic and a more operational role depending on the client’s specific needs.
Changing the perspectives
Sometimes in life, one single event can start a chain reaction, building an unstoppable momentum and creating extraordinary results. This is especially true for, Olca Huijsmans, Senior Consultant at NDA. The passing of Olca’s mother led her to question her life choices, leading her to leave her privileged background behind and seek an entirely new challenge in life. A complete change in career is never an easy road to take, but in Olca’s case, she needed to overcome more than one hurdle along the way. However, as Olca herself says: With the right direction and determination – all is possible.
As a teenager, Olca, originally from Turkey but now living in Switzerland, was granted a scholarship to study management and business administration in the UK. After finishing her degree, she started working as a sales manager in a prestigious company both in the UK and after she returned home, in Turkey. Despite this amazing opportunity, which at that time in Turkey, everyone would wish for, Olca felt that something was missing.
“ I grew up in a gorgeous house by the sea, had a well-paid sales job, with everything that anyone at my age, could ever dream off, Olca says, “but somehow it didn’t feel enough. I felt like I had not accomplished anything in life which, in a way, made me feel unworthy ”.
Olca had a yearning of doing something more meaningful and intellectually challenging in life and her fascination with science, medicine and technology made her realise that she might have made a wrong choice of career.
This feeling only increased when Olca’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was first treated in UK and thereafter in US, but unfortunately, the diagnosis was not good. Olca was very close to her mum and when she passed away, she decided to follow her heart.
“ This was a major turning point in my life”, Olca explains, “It made me more willing to take risks, which has accompanied me in my life whenever deciding which career and projects to pursue ”.
Finding your why
No longer able to imagine a life in sales, Olca realised her true purpose and inspiration was to help to make a difference for patients like her mom. She found a preparatory course in medicine in the Netherlands and decided that this would be a good starting point for a new career. When she applied for the course, she was told that she did not meet the entry requirements, however instead of becoming disheartened, Olca decided that this was something that could be sorted out. She reached out to the faculty and convinced them to let her try for one year and when the semester started, Olca moved into a very small dormitory in Leiden.
“ This was what I was supposed to do” she says with excitement. “Studying science, I realized this was my true passion. It all made sense ”.
After making a successful transition from marketing to life sciences, Olca aimed for a PhD in Biochemistry.
“ I guess when you believe in yourself and don’t see any barriers, it is easier to convince others that there are no barriers” she says with a smile. “I feel that I have been very lucky along the way, there have been many people taking risks and believing in me and looking back I am very grateful for that ”.
Six months before ending her PhD, she started scouting for a job. The combination of a broad network and her fearless attitude landed her first job in a biotech. She started out in the lab, but she was quickly pulled into the research strategy office to write research proposals. Her next position was as a senior clinical manager, although Olca had no clinical background.
“ I always feel like I can do my best, especially when the cards are stacked against me”, she admits. “It only adds to my motivation ”.
Olca would never have considered moving into regulatory affairs if it weren’t for one of her most beloved mentors in pharma, thinking such a career would suit her very well, and she was right. To interpret regulatory guidance, you need not just deep scientific knowledge but also to think out of the box, which made Olca feel right at home. She compares it to the work of a detective solving a mystery in a way, putting all the pieces together to create a clear and concise narrative that may not have been obvious from the beginning.
Pressure testing the comfort zone
In Olca’s opinion, consulting in regulatory affairs combines the best of two worlds, science, and people skills,
“ As a consultant, you are often brought in when stakes are high or when things have taken an unexpected turn in a program”, Olca explains. “We are brought in to lead, help and to guide the team, usually under pressure and with time constraints ”.
To move things forward, you must dissect the regulatory challenge. deconstruct it, create a solution, and present it to the stakeholders in the most unbiased, straightforward way.
“ I am very happy to undertake any regulatory challenge where I can be of value ”.
Working to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements sometime requires you to be the interface between a client and health authority. Bridging this gap and ensuring that both sides understand each other is something Olca takes pride in. It can be very challenging at times, but this is where Olca feels right at home. Making critical decisions while being between a rock and a hard place makes Olca feel alive.
“ It’s never a dull moment” she says with laughter.
Dr Olca Huijsmans