Christina Brown Campbell

CNR’s New Alumni Association President

Christina Campbell
Photo by Julie Van Scoy

Christina Brown Campbell (BS 1995 Plant and Microbial Biology)—a self-described drug-discovery scientist, data ninja, oenophile, designer, feminist, and strategist—is always up for a challenge. When she was little, she thought she might grow up to be a doctor, or perhaps a park ranger. The ranger idea proved impractical due to severe allergies. So as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in the College of Natural Resources, majoring in bioresource sciences, medical school seemed ever more likely.

After graduation, however, Campbell “took a complete right turn,” as she puts it, when the opportunity came along to join a pharmaceutical start-up, Advanced Medicine 
Inc., as a founding research member. It was a challenge she couldn’t refuse.

“That was a wild ride,” she recalls. “We never knew where our next funding was going to come from, so every piece of data, every scientific breakthrough, was a reason to celebrate and a reason to keep the lights on.” In the process, she learned about financial models and venture capitalism, FDA regulations and IPOs, in addition to fulfilling her core responsibilities in preclinical drug development in six target areas: the central nervous system; infectious disease; and gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory diseases.

Hitting it out of the ballpark

From the start, Campbell had an “outrageous goal”: to get 10 medicines into late-stage clinical trials or to market within 10 years. As things turned out, this truly was a “Mission: Impossible ambition,” even for a hardworking optimist like her. As a respected colleague later pointed out, in the pharmaceutical business you’re lucky if you get 3 or 4 medicines from concept to discovery to development to patient in a lifetime, never mind a decade.

Yet now, 19 years later, Campbell expresses deep satisfaction with what the company has accomplished. That start-up, now called Theravance Biopharma, has grown from about 15 employees to more than 350, and it has one medicine on the market and two others in partnership at a spin-off company, Innoviva. “The major push has been to try to improve global health through engines of innovation,” she says. “It’s truly an honor to be a driving partner of a discovery biology team that’s been so successful and so prolific.” She laughs and adds, “I may get to that goal of 10 yet!”

“I felt I had to speak up louder, and know what I was talking about to a degree that I couldn’t be dismissed. I needed to hit everything out of the ballpark.”

In addition to such challenges as an FDA overhaul and the global economic downturn of 2007–08, Campbell was one of very few women in a highly competitive, male-dominated business. “I felt I had to speak up louder, and know what I was talking about to a degree that I couldn’t be dismissed,” she says. “And I had to struggle to get the sort of visibility that my male colleagues were getting. I was constantly aware that I had to set my standards differently, my bar higher. I needed to hit everything out of the ballpark.”

Strengthening the alumni link

Campbell’s advice for young women embarking on a scientific career? “Never be afraid to take a right or left turn,” to creatively engineer the environment so “you feel like you’re progressing, getting challenged, doing meaningful work.” Also key is “getting the support you need: the guidance, the coaching, the mentorship, the sponsorship”—something Campbell did not have when she started out. Which inspires her now to engage in being a mentor herself, both at Theravance and more formally through the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.

Christina Brown Campbell taking a selfie in her lab

Christina Brown Campbell snaps a selfie in the lab.

Campbell is also bringing people together through the CNR Alumni Association, of which she is about to become president after several years on the board. “I’m really excited to take this organization to the next level,” she says, “and have it be more valuable for our stakeholders.” She points to various events that are helping to unify the college—including the annual homecoming barbecue, career panels, speaker programs, and a biannual networking event.

With these activities, Campbell seeks to “blur the lines, providing more opportunities for cross-pollination within areas of expertise,” and “create a nexus of communication between the college, the community, and the alumni.” In this way, the alumni association can serve as a structural support for the many callings, interests, and interwoven ties that CNR represents, from its teaching program and faculty research to the diverse work of alumni.

“CNR is bigger than the sum of its parts,” she says. “The college has these amazing programs going on, the faculty are doing phenomenal things, and there’s an infinite number of ways that alumni and faculty researchers can interact with and help one another. We’re trying to be the brokering place for that and the CNR vision: ‘See the bigger picture. Make a better world.’ Let’s make that happen.”

Get Involved in the CNR Alumni Association

Visit the CNRAA web page to stay up-to-date on networking and professional development opportunities. If you’d like to play a more active role and gain leadership experience by serving on the CNRAA board, contact Andrew Judd, director of alumni relations, at