Personal Story

Fits Like a Glove

Sebastiaan Hullegie - UMC Utrecht
Fits Like a Glove

Sebastiaan Hullegie is Associate Program Manager in the European Project Group (EUPG) at UMC Utrecht, which involves the COMBACTE project. He has managed COMBACTE-NET’s ASPIRE-ICU and currently manages HONEST-PREPS. He was also project manager for studies within the PREPARE and RECOVER consortia and various stand-alone projects for the UMC Utrecht.

A Path to Project Management

Sebastiaan’s path to managing clinical trials in the infectious diseases field started with his interest in science. He studied medicine and became a Medical Doctor, after which he began his research in infectious diseases. He was offered a PhD trajectory at the Infectious Diseases ward of Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, which focused on HIV and hepatitis C.

“During my PhD I led my first clinical trial and very much enjoyed the organizational part of it. Getting the trial to an end was a driving factor for me. After I obtained my PhD degree I spent six months preparing for my training as infectious diseases specialist, which involved working in the hospital. I then realized I was not as keen on it as I had anticipated. So I went on looking for a something else, and that’s how I started working as a Jr. Project Manager for COMBACTE in 2017”.

Although initially intended as a temporary position before continuing as a doctor or microbiologist in training, it turned out that project management of clinical trials fit Sebastiaan like a glove.

  • “I started in the CTTI-HABP-VABP study which was very successful. Then I got offered the job as Project Manager and joined the ASPIRE-ICU study and REMAP-CAP. After finalizing ASPIRE-ICU I initiated  the HONEST-PREPS and PNEUMO studies. As a result I became Sr. Project Manager and continued to manage those studies, as well as the RECOVER program at the UMC Utrecht”.

“The scientific, medical and management background is perfect to apply in my work. From a PhD perspective I know what to do scientifically, and I know what the physicians are usually dealing with. In COMBACTE I was and am able to develop my project management skills”.

As the EUPG doubled in size, Sebastiaan became Associate Program Manager, a role that is more focused on management decisions (human and financial resources, risk management, etc.). He enjoys the private-public aspect of the collaboration within these trials and believes that pharma and academia highly benefit from and complement each other.

Challenges & opportunities


“The biggest challenge of project management within COMBACTE is finding a compromise between academia and industry; to get a scientifically sound protocol executed on time and within budget. Until the end of the project our goal is balancing the needs of the many stakeholders because projects have multiple deliverables. Every stakeholder wants to get something out of the study, whether it’s the samples, effectiveness of a product, the epidemiological data, economic models and so on. But we always make it work, and learn a lot from it. The lessons learned are then applied in other future projects and trials. This helped us to scale up relatively easy during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We started many new projects which are now showing the value of our network and experience.”

— Sebastiaan Hullegie

Sebastiaan Hullegie and the ASPIRE-ICU study team upon completion of the study's database lock in May 2019.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic has put an enormous extra burden on the healthcare systems. The scientific teams within academia and industry also worked around the clock to find desperately needed answers. Within a new working atmosphere of home working, trials had to be set up via a complete digital route. This new situation was challenging for Sebastiaan, but turned out successful.

“Personally, not a lot has changed as the pandemic hit. We still do a lot of teleconferencing and the topics are the same, except of course most people work from home. The interaction however stayed the same. Study conduct and the way of working became even more professional and fine-tuned. Efficiency also doubled”.

The future for COMBACTE

“As COMBACTE is coming to an end, we will have a new organization, and new way of working together called ECRAID. Currently, we are working hard to define its structure and setting up the organization. It will be challenging to set up a several perpetual observational studies which will be the heart of ECRAID. I am very excited to be part of this new scientific infrastructure in the world of infectious diseases”.