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Apr 26
Employee Spotlight: Debbie Smith’s Journey on Moving the Conversation Forward in Epilepsy and Health Equity

When we think about our purpose, people, and science – our people are a core component of how we deliver moments that matter for people living with severe diseases. At UCB, our people bring their whole selves to work enriching our environment with unique perspectives and experiences. How our people engage with each other and with society beyond UCB makes them better colleagues and employees. We’re pleased to spotlight some of our incredible employees. 
Debbie Smith, Medical Strategy Lead of Health Economics and Outcomes Research, has always been interested in neuroscience and epilepsy. After studying neuroscience research in undergrad, she began working in pharmacogenomics DNA sequencing and genotyping for clinical trials. Driven by a curiosity for how epilepsy forms in certain patients after a traumatic brain injury, she returned to academia where she completed her Ph.D. focusing on gene therapy for post-traumatic epileptogenesis. During her graduate school dissertation, an individual on her committee introduced Debbie to the field of Medical Science Liaisons which ultimately exposed Debbie to the world of health economics and outcomes research (HEOR). Working in HEOR, Debbie aimed to translate science into the language of economics so payers could see the benefits behind UCB’s products and allow access for patients. “People should have access to medications that they are comfortable with. Making sure people know that is an option is something I am passionate about,” Debbie says.

With Debbie’s background in medical science and HEOR, she had the opportunity to originate a new role focused on epilepsy outcomes and population health. Because it was brand new, Debbie had to quickly learn how to create a role that didn’t exist and carve her path. This was rewarding to her as she had the opportunity to learn from different departments to better understand the varying viewpoints of population health and all of the aspects that affect healthcare, which further fueled her passion.

As the importance of this work continued to grow, there was another opportunity for Debbie to develop a new role, capability, and team. Debbie began focusing her team’s work and mantra around “health equity” as she wanted everyone to rally behind this area of focus in projects or conversations. Moving forward, she hopes to discover that the studies being conducted have the right variables to be able to dig into the nuances of social determinants of health. Because of Debbie’s scientific background, it is her philosophy to measure the magnitude of a problem so that when solutions are made, UCB can show that they have a measurable impact. 

Beyond her work in medical strategy, Debbie is also involved in BEING, an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to UCB’s black employees. She emphasizes with her team when any of their projects impact a certain group, they should consult with the relevant ERG. Debbie’s team has also helped sponsor five episodes of Tu Salud Tu Familia. In this health show, episodes are based on the research that her team has done on the Hispanic population to better understand the cultural nuances of having epilepsy and to disseminate that information to the public.

Having been diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age, Debbie hopes to destigmatize what it means to be living with epilepsy or taking medication. She was inspired to share her story of living with epilepsy after hearing a guest speaker at a UCB conference. Debbie realized, “If he is up there talking about it, I should be talking about it and raising awareness. I am an example of how it doesn't have to ruin your life. It should not define us. We are all just people and should all be empathetic.” Her personal connection to epilepsy, and ambition for a more equitable future for those living with this severe condition is what drives her passion for her work.