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Bringing Clinically Meaningful Products to the SCI Community

Anne joined ONWARD® as a Regulatory Affairs Engineer in 2016, shortly after graduating from ISIFC Besançon with an MSc in Life Sciences Engineering. She was one of the company’s first hires in Lausanne, which made her an ONWARD veteran only a few years into her career! At the age of 32, as Director in the Clinical department, she leads a team evaluating the safety and effectiveness of ARC Therapy for a range of spinal cord injury (SCI) and neurological indications.


“Gender equity is not an empty word at ONWARD. I know that the organization supports my career development and values a healthy work-life balance.”

What does your role as Clinical Director involve?

I oversee a team that is responsible for setting up the clinical studies that will support the clinical validation of our systems and the deployment of ARC Therapy™. We aim to collect data to demonstrate that our devices are safe and effective and that they can be used by patients, healthcare professionals, and caregivers daily. It’s a highly collaborative environment that constantly challenges me to expand my knowledge in everything from neuroscience to electrical engineering.

What motivated you to pursue a career in engineering?

I initially wanted to become a doctor. But, in France, the medical school entrance exam is highly competitive, and I didn’t get in. That was a huge disappointment. I decided to study biology instead, and then I moved into life sciences engineering for my master’s degree, with the idea of getting into research at some point. What’s amazing about my job today is that it perfectly straddles the line between industry and academic research. I’m just where I want to be.

What has your experience been as a woman in STEM?

I’ve never felt in the minority as a woman, as there’s a strong pipeline of young female engineers in the life sciences. When we advertised for a new position last year, over 90% of the CVs we received were from women!

In my time here, I have been encouraged to seize every opportunity to learn and get involved in different projects. Gender equity is not an empty word at ONWARD. The organization values a healthy work-life balance and supports my development. The fact that I have been promoted to Clinical Director at the age of 32 is a testament to that. Also, four out of nine members of ONWARD’s executive team are women, including my boss, Nathalie Gilat, our Sr. Director of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs.

What have you been working on this past year?

It has been a challenging but incredibly satisfying year. We launched our first-in-human trial of the implantable ARCIM® Therapy for regulating blood pressure in people with SCI in 2022. Seeing first-hand how ARC Therapy improves people’s quality of life is hugely rewarding, given how much work we put in to get to this point. We had to demonstrate that our device is safe to use, that we have the support of clinicians and hospitals, that all the professionals involved are properly trained, and so on. It’s a lot of people to coordinate, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of complex information to be synchronized between the different teams to ensure the study goes ahead smoothly.

How has working with people with SCI changed your outlook on disability?

The participants in our studies insist on the fact that they are not “patients” but “persons living with SCI”. That’s an important distinction. These are ordinary people who go to work, care for their children, and aspire to live as normally as possible. When you ask them what would make the biggest difference in terms of their quality of life, they typically list things like improved energy from blood pressure regulation, sexual function, and bladder control – all ahead of walking again. These are all areas where our implant has the potential to vastly improve their ability to perform simple, everyday tasks that the rest of us take for granted, like leaning over to plug a phone charger into the wall. It’s immensely satisfying to be able to contribute to making people’s lives better.

What are some of the challenges and rewards of working in a start-up environment?

One of the big challenges for me when I started at ONWARD was the level of independence I had within the team. Even as a junior employee, I was given a lot of responsibility, which was sometimes stressful. But the attitude was “we trust you to do your best. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.”

The one constant at a start-up is that plans are constantly changing. I’ve learned to be flexible and proactive in finding different ways to meet our objectives. Working with such a diverse group of professionals – there are 22 different nationalities at ONWARD – has also taught me to adapt how I communicate with the person I’m interacting with. It’s made me more open-minded and flexible in dealing with challenges in my personal life, too!