Under normal circumstances, the annual Womanthology Women in Medicine and Health issue serves as a platform for people, usually women, working in the sector to share their own personal stories about their career journeys. Sadly, this piece reflects an exceptional female scientist who cannot share her own story so I will do my very best to pay tribute to her in a fitting manner.
Remembering Dr Kirsty Smitten
I first heard about Dr Kirsty Smitten when I attended the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards lunch in Leeds in February this year, where she was shortlisted, and deservedly went on to win, the award for FSB Entrepreneur of the Year 2023 for the Yorkshire region.
Our CEO @SmittenKirsty is up for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the #FSBSwards. She has let the research team out of the lab for a chilled Friday afternoon! Good luck Kirsty 🤞 pic.twitter.com/YNdbVxprG1
— MetalloBio (@BioMetallo) February 24, 2023
Kirsty took to the stage and she lit it up with her entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm. Kirsty explained that she hadn’t been sure she’d be able to attend the awards as she was being treated for cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of heart cancer. She was taking a potential risk of infection but had been determined to attend as the honour meant so much.
The entire room fell silent as she spoke, captivated by her words, and in awe of her determination and resilience. Had she not told us about her cancer diagnosis no one would have been aware of it. There were no outward signs. She was ‘just’ an incredibly talented scientist and researcher shining brightly as her talent and achievements were being deservedly recognised.
In light of her exceptional talent, Kirsty went on to win the national award for the UK Federation of Small Businesses Entrepreneur of the Year 2023. Kirsty has also won multiple other awards, both personally and for the company. These included a Forbes Magazine 30 under 30 award for Science and Healthcare, a Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technologies Competition, a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship, and an Innovate UK Women in Innovation Award.
Kirsty’s life had been incredibly impactful. She attended the University of Sheffield, studying in the Department of Chemistry, firstly as an undergraduate, before subsequently undertaking a PhD working on the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.
Her PhD thesis led to a series of high-impact papers and the filing of a patent, which encouraged Kirsty to take part in the Innovate UK-funded ICURe commercial accelerator programme, which helped her refine and validate the commercial potential of her work. Kirsty eventually took up the role of CEO of the company, MetalloBio Ltd, which she founded jointly with Professor Jim Thomas, who had been her PhD supervisor.
Kirsty’s groundbreaking work helped the company create new antimicrobial compounds that could potentially be the first to enter the clinic for nearly 40 years and would be used to treat bacterial infections that have become resistant to currently used drugs. In her role as CEO, Kirsty also brought in more than £2 million of non-dilutive funds to MetalloBio.
As if her professional work hadn’t been exceptional enough, Kirsty’s kindness and determination continued as she underwent her cancer treatment. She created a Facebook group to provide those diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma with guidance and moral support. Kirsty shared her cancer journey through blogs, Instagram and TikTok, to spread awareness and campaign for better funding of research into lesser-known cancers. On her Instagram page, Kirsty wrote:
“The issue with having a rare cancer is there are very few trials or new treatments. £255 million funding goes into breast cancer research in the UK and only £5.6 million goes into sarcoma. If you search breast cancer on Instagram there are 3.6 million tags, if you search sarcoma there are 105,000 and for cardiac sarcoma less than 100.”
Through her local football team, Kirsty had helped to raise money for food banks across Sheffield. Kirsty was also a keen hockey player.
Sadly, Kirsty passed away on 4th October 2023, aged just 29, but her legacy lives on.
Kirsty’s family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for sarcoma research.
The majority of these words are not Kirsty’s own but I very much hope that they will shine a light on her and serve as a reminder of her incredible life. This issue of Womanthology is dedicated to Kirsty and her work.
You can watch Kirsty’s interview with the Royal Society of Chemistry here.