Jamie Phillips is a senior scientific affairs manager for Roche Diagnostics Corporation. In her everyday role, her focus is on Roche’s solution to point-of-care microbial tests for influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus, and strep A—for which she acts as a liaison between units of Roche and research scientists to support further implementation of their technology as the company works to reach those most in need. But once it became clear that SARS-CoV-2 was going to spread, medical providers, medical technology producers, and pharmaceutical companies knew they would need to be ready. Phillips, with her extensive background in virology—specifically coronaviruses—was asked to put her regular role aside to aid in building Roche’s plan of attack.
Phillips is a Double Dawg, meaning she earned two degrees from the University of Georgia: a master of science (’09) and a Ph.D. (’11). While earning her degrees, both in infectious diseases, Phillips was advised by Mark Jackwood, department head of population health and the J.R. Glisson Professor of Avian Medicine. Jackwood also happens to be a coronavirus expert, largely focusing on infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), or avian coronavirus. Over his career, he has shed light on many aspects of the disease which threatens poultry populations around the world. Under his tutelage, Phillips’s passion for virology grew, leading her to study influenza, West Nile virus, and other coronaviruses.
In Jackwood’s lab, she received hands-on experience with several strains of IBV as the team sequenced their genomes. Understanding the genome of a virus allows scientists to learn about them quickly—seeing exactly what the constituent parts of a virus do and how they affect their hosts. Because of Phillips’s experiences in the lab, she became invaluable as Roche raced to develop a test for SARS-CoV-2. With her knowledge, combined with that of others within the organization, Roche was able to develop and release a test for the novel coronavirus in just six weeks—a test that has, in the words of Phillips, “touched over two million lives.”
Phillips has committed herself to better the health of others, whether through her role as a proponent for point-of-care testing access and antimicrobial stewardship or in response to the pandemic we are currently fighting. She attributes this feeling of commitment to her four years studying in Jackwood’s lab. “Dr. Jackwood spent so much time investing in his graduate students to ensure they are successful in graduate school and beyond,” she explains. “Working with Dr. Jackwood has helped me navigate through life with a strong basis in science and a strong sense of morality.”
In her role, Phillips must look at the future of medicine to determine how to best serve those in need of access to healthcare and medical testing. She is fueled by a passion for science, specifically the study of virology. “RNA viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, are very interesting, but it’s the impact we can make on the world that inspires me the most,” explains Phillips. With a solid background in molecular virology, Phillips is prepared to help in any way she can in everyday life or a life-altering pandemic. She credits her time at UGA and with Dr. Jackwood as being integral to her success.
“Graduate studies are difficult, but it’s so worth it,” Phillips explains. “Pursuing a higher level of knowledge is rewarding—and at UGA you get that and the solid foundation you need to make a difference.”