Background

Portrait photograph of Dr Helen Lee

Helen received her PhD from Cornell University and MSc from Oxford University. After post-doctoral training at Churchill Hospital in Oxford, the University of Geneva and St Louis Hospital in Paris, she began her career in diagnostics at the Centre National de Transfusion Sanguine in Paris where she was responsible for developing monoclonal blood typing reagents, the first widely used liquid blood typing reagents in Paris. Another major accomplishment of her group was one of the first monoclonal antibody based assays for hepatitis B surface antigen, which was subsequently licensed to the Pasteur Institute as the MONLISA HBsAg assay and is still on the market today.

She then joined Abbott Laboratories to be responsible for Research & Development, and was promoted to General Manager of the Probe Diagnostics Business Unit where she managed over 100 people and an annual budget of >$20 million. She was also responsible for production of instruments as well as chemistry, marketing, quality and regulatory affairs of the product line. After leaving Abbott she founded a biotech company, Sentinel Biosciences Inc. in Palo Alto, CA, developing technologies for virus discovery. The company was successfully sold to one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. In 1996, she left industry for the University of Cambridge in order to focus on the development of technology and diagnostic assay for resource-poor settings. To commercialise the technologies developed at Cambridge, she founded the spin off company, Diagnostics for the Real World Ltd (DRW), in 2002.

Awards

Dr Lee chaired the Diagnostic Steering Committee at the World Health Organization (WHO). She is the recipient of the 2005 Lord Lloyd Kilgerran Award, the 2006 British Female Inventor in Industry Award, the 2006 European Women of Achievement Award and the 2007 Asian Women of Achievement Award (presentation as pdf)

 The products and technologies developed by DDU scientists received the Medical Futures Innovation Award (UK) for its innovative sample collection device and more recently, the 2007 Tech Museum Innovation Award (US) for innovation in the Health Category, in recognition of the Signal Amplification technology, which greatly improves the sensitivity of rapid test for the detection of infectious diseases (see video interview) (hear audio interview)

The unit has filed 12 families of patent applications, with 20 granted or allowed national patents, detailing inventions that improve the performance of rapid diagnostic tests.