Some children dream about becoming superheroes wearing vibrantly colored capes, but for Alicia Urniza, Senior Director, R&D, Biologicals, the white coats of the veterinarians who treated the animals on her family’s farm were the pinnacle of her aspiration. Their super power? Keeping animals healthy.
Alicia loved animals from an early age. She grew up in Barcelona, but she looked forward to every school holiday when she would escape the city to visit her uncle’s farm in rural Spain, a place she found filled with wonder. “My favorite thing was to watch the veterinarians on the farm tending to the cattle. It became my hobby to observe how they helped them.” And of course, their wardrobe choice didn’t hurt: “As a child, I knew it must be a very important job because of these white coats!”
At age 13, Alicia was given an opportunity to put her experience on the farm to the test. Her uncle went on holiday for three weeks, leaving Alicia in charge of the operations and the cattle. While most of her friends were spending their summers relaxing in the Spanish sun, young Alicia happily assumed the responsibility to ensure nothing went wrong with the farm or the cattle in her uncle’s absence. From early in the morning until sundown, Alicia worked tirelessly to successfully keep things running. This tenacity would serve Alicia well in eventually earning her own white veterinary coat and would fuel her accomplishments she would achieve as a scientist at Zoetis.
Alicia pursued veterinary school despite initial pushback from her family, who deemed a veterinary career “only for men.” But Alicia approached her studies with the same grit as when she was a young girl who took on the challenge to care for her uncle’s farm. She excelled in her studies and began her career as a veterinarian. After a short time, Alicia wanted to see the application of science in the industry and began her R&D career at a legacy company of Zoetis in Olot, Spain in 1997.
As the European Union Head of Biological and Vaccine Research, Alicia heads two talented teams in Olot and Zaventem, developing vaccines for all species except fish. It's a One Zoetis approach: the team works in close collaboration with our Veterinary Medicine Research and Development colleagues in Kalamazoo to identify new vaccine candidates and bring them to European approval. One of the focuses of her team's research is on vaccines for new emerging infectious diseases - one of Alicia's passions. Additionally, Alicia is the EU representative for Zoetis' Center for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.
Recently, Alicia's team delivered new vaccines to the European market. These include Suvaxyn® PRRS MLV, a vaccine that protects piglets from porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome, and Versican® Plus Bb Oral, which protects dogs from Bordetella bronchiseptica. In the area of emerging diseases, her team delivered first-to-market vaccines for Bluetongue and Schmallenburg disease. The next big challenge is African Swine Fever, an enormous threat facing swine farmers around the world.
Alicia loves the collaborative environment at Zoetis, and she dedicates time to develop and motivate colleagues in their careers. In addition to guiding her team, Alicia also encourages other emerging female leaders at Zoetis as a founding member of the Olot and Zaventem branches of the Zoetis Women's Mentoring Network.