Women’s History Month Q&A with Whitney Jappe

It is Women’s History Month, which celebrates the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. To mark the occasion, we are featuring some of our female employees at Sema4 over the next few weeks. In our first Q&A of this series, Whitney Jappe, Digital Program Manager in our New York City office, discusses what fuels her commitment to helping cancer patients and why she’s thankful to women from previous generations.

Whitney Jappe1. What is your role at Sema4?

I oversee the development and launch of digital oncology tools at Sema4 that enable the exploration of clinical and genomic data in aggregate down to the individual level. They serve to accelerate research and identify opportunities for care improvement using data, and deliver on our mission to advance precision medicine.

2. What motivates you to work at Sema4?

I have a passion for oncology and precision medicine that started when I began my career in oncology 10 years ago at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). I was managing Phase I trials in oncology at a time when immunotherapy and several of the newer EGFR and ALK inhibitors were just entering the treatment landscape, and the results we saw were astonishing. I was blown away that by identifying and targeting proteins and driver mutations, it would have the impact it did, especially in a disease where, at the time, the five-year survival was only around 20%.

So, working at a company like Sema4 that not only performs the sequencing but also delivers the tools and services to further advance precision medicine allows me to continue on this path of improving the lives of cancer patients.

3. What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to pay homage to women from previous generations that have paved the way for the rights and freedoms we have today. I am particularly thankful for the women who have broken the mold by successfully pursuing careers that were previously reserved for men.

4. Can you tell us about a female role model who has inspired you?

I greatly admire Dr. Eileen O’Reilly, an oncologist at MSK who specializes in pancreatic cancer. I didn’t know much about the disease when I joined but I quickly realized that she had one of the busiest practices and also some of the sickest patients. I later attended a presentation Dr. O’Reilly gave about the disease and how few treatment options there were but she emphasized how hopeful she was that with research would come breakthroughs. I was always inspired by her ability to maintain a positive and hopeful spirit in the face of such a terrible disease.

Sure enough, 10 years later Dr. O’Reilly is on the front of The ASCO Post next to a headline: “Unprecedented Responses to Cisplatin/Gemcitabine in BRCA-mutated Advanced Pancreatic Cancer.” Her dedication, and determination to help these patients continues to be inspirational to me. I have such respect and awe for all oncologists for the work that they do.

5. What advice would you give to other women who want to get into this industry?

Digital health didn’t quite exist when I went to school, and I wasn’t a healthcare major, so I entered the space with very little knowledge. Everything I’ve learned to date about oncology, genomics, and digital health has been self-taught or learned through experience. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith if you’re interested in getting into this space and are worried you may not have the right background.

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