A Career in Medicine Sparked by a Single Moment
A Career in Medicine Sparked by a Single Moment
A career of building hope for people with cancer began with a single childhood moment for our Vice President, Global Team Leader, Oncology Research & Development, Dalila Sellami, MD. “When I was 5 years old, I suffered a serious illness and was intrigued from the minute the doctor pulled out the stethoscope to listen to my heart,” said Dalila. “And as he examined and wrote notes down on paper, a lifelong curiosity in medicine was triggered. I told my parents I wanted to be a doctor.”
After studying medicine in her home country of Tunisia and honing her craft of medicine across Tunisia and France (with several rotations in cancer centers), the curiosity Dalila once felt all those years ago transformed into the burning desire to help people with cancer. As the desire to help others grew, Dalila found her calling in an area of medicine that had never been practiced by a woman who graduated from Tunisia’s medical school.
“At that time, radiation oncology was not a specialty that was well understood,” said Dalila. “And cancer itself, was thought to be a death sentence. With the thrust to understand the science; and the determination to find a cure for this devastating disease; as well as the shortage of physicians specialized in cancer care in my home country, radiation oncology was a fascinating specialty for me to pursue.”
The First Female Radiation Oncologist in Tunisia
A true medical pioneer, Dalila had the foresight to identify unmet needs and determined where she could make the biggest impact on patients in her mind. With only one cancer center in the entire country of Tunisia at that time, Dalila set out on a path not ordinarily traveled. And, in doing so, she became the first woman in Tunisia to become a radiation oncologist.
“As women, we can pursue anything we want,” said Dalila. “I was fortunate to have the support of mentors and colleagues to encourage me along the way. But the key is to focus on taking the opportunity to establish yourself and become good at what you are doing. For me it was to become successful radiation oncologist, and later to inspire others who wanted to follow the same path.”
A Relentless Drive to Bring Innovation "Home"
While training in France, Dalila learned new treatment techniques not available in Tunisia from leading experts in her field. Dalila’s commitment to bring innovative treatment options in her home country was unrelenting, and she brought two novel treatment options never before available in Tunisia:
- A new technique for treating children with eye cancer (retinoblastoma) that they did not previously have the capability to administer in Tunisia. Having this treatment option available to patients in Tunisia was critical for their health and saved time and money spent traveling to other countries to receive treatment.
- Next, she trained and mastered the technical skills for total body irradiation (TBI) as conditioning to bone marrow transplants, and contributed to the set-up of TBI at the national cancer center, allowing for bone marrow transplant procedures to be performed in Tunisia.
Making an Impact on Patients’ Lives on a Broader Scale
Soon after starting a family, Dalila, her husband, and three-month old son, moved to the United States. Keeping with her longstanding purpose, she knew the time was right to embark on a new opportunity that would enable her to make an impact on patients' lives on a broader scale. Dalila’s first role in the pharmaceutical industry was developing a new medicine for breast and colorectal cancers, an experience she looks back on as being a positive one that made her transition from academia quite rewarding.
“Joining the pharmaceutical industry has given me the highest level of satisfaction,” said Dalila. “I’m no longer just touching the lives of patients in ‘one’ center or one country, I’m going so much broader and helping to make an impact way beyond what I had ever done before.”
Helping people live better lives has been the mission propelling Dalila from early on in her oncology career and today as a leader at Daiichi Sankyo. Dalila leads a team that is driving the promising oncology pipeline forward with a focus on the development of a targeted HER3 directed antibody drug conjugate (ADC), which is currently being evaluated in patients with EGFR-mutated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and metastatic breast cancer.
When asked what is different about Daiichi Sankyo, Dalila stated that it’s the combination of the organization’s commitment to developing innovative medicines along with the culture and people. The company’s strong ethical values and commitment to diversity including the focus on empowering women in their roles is unique. Once again, she is part of a greater effort of building something meaningful and she could not be more inspired. Even more, she is proud to be doing it with Daiichi Sankyo, a company whose values are aligned with her own.
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