Scientists Simplifying Science

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Abhinav Dey

Abhinav Dey has 16 articles published.

Lantern Pharma: A Game Changing Precision Medicine Initiative

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When the Precision Medicine Initiative was announced by President Obama in 2015, he said: “delivering the right treatments, at the right time, every time, to the right person.” As the next heralded breakthrough in healthcare, simply put it is the ultra-tailored therapy.

Personalization of therapy has always been a practice to a certain extent, however, the combination of technologies to generate patient-derived data, genomic medicine and computer science has added the PRECISION to make it personal.

This time in the Medness Focus edition we will talk about a young pharma company, Lantern Pharma, that could be a game changer in the field of precision medicine. How? Read on to know more!

Lantern Pharma: Personalizing the drug pipeline

Problem to address: Re-purposing of validated, de-risked clinical stage anti-cancer drugs that are discontinued for drug development

Reasons for failure of anti-cancer drugs in pipeline:

  • heterogeneity of cancers,
  • multidrug resistance,
  • inability of one drug to treat some but not all patients

Technology:

  • Personalized precision drug programs using advanced genomics and artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Repurposing of deserted late-stage clinical drugs that were successful in only a subset of patient population
  • AI- A proprietary machine learning algorithm called Rescue Algorithm for Drug Repurposing (RADR)
  • AI approach Connecting and Analyzing Clinical Trial and Patient Genomics Data to Identify relevant Biomarkers and predict favorable patient responders.

Step 1. Combine Clinical Trial Data with Lab genomic Analysis of Patient Samples

Step 2 a. Data Analysis from Clinical Trails and Patient Genomics 

Step 2 b.  Artificial Intelligence to connect the dots between drug candidates and best responders in a patient population

Step 3. Identify Biomarkers

Step 4. Identify Responders

Drug Pipeline:

  • Tavocept (LP-300) targeting Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Irofulven-1 (LP-100) targeting Hormone-refractory prostate cancer
  • Irofulven-2 (LP-184) targeting ovarian cancer

 

Opinions of Stakeholders:

“Within the next six years, the precision medicine market is expected to reach nearly $88 billion and has the potential to impact all cancer patients. Drug rescue and repurposing in oncology is a high-growth segment and expected to contribute to as much as 25 to 30 percent of new therapeutic approvals and significantly reduce development costs,” Arun Asaithambi (Co-founder and Director) said. (link)

“Lantern Pharma is leading a wave of innovation in cancer treatment that we believe will bring the best therapies to patients who are most likely to respond,” said Clay Heighten, M.D., founding partner of GPG Ventures. (link)

“We are thrilled to partner with Lantern in order to advance the clinical development of Irofulven, and to advance a new paradigm in cancer drug development by designing and conducting clinical trials around a targeted population of patients identified, via MPI’s diagnostic platform, as the patients most likely to respond to a given drug based on their tumor biology. said Professor Peter Buhl Jensen, M.D., CEO of Oncology Venture and MPI. (link)

 

“The more clinical and genomic data that is analyzed, the ‘smarter’ the AI becomes, which will lead to additional breakthroughs. We are very excited to assist Lantern in its pursuit to re-invent cancer drug development using advanced AI and genomics. This partnership accelerates the development of therapies at a faster and more efficient rate than ever before,” explains Anand A., Chief Executive Officer of Intuition Systems. (link)

Latest news: “Biotech Startup Lantern Pharma Raises $3.7M to Accelerate Cancer Drug Approval Process”

Who are the other players in the Precision Medicine Start-up market segment and where does Lantern stand?

We compiled a list of similar companies (in USA) who are working in the field of precision medicine and could have matching interests with Lantern (Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list and the opinions are based on the information available on the companies’ websites as on 05/05/2017)

Company name Target areas Competition for Lantern?
Syapse Precision medicine data platform for health providers Probably
GenomOncology Translating next generation sequencing data into actionable information Probably
 Centrillion Biosciences Genomics and DNA analyses Partially
4D Healthware Patient engagement software through connected-data approach Partially
Cellular Dynamics International Stem cell technologies for drug development and personalized medicine Partially
NeoDiagnostix Combines advanced diagnostics with therapeutics, enabling clinicians plan treatment Partially
Translational Software Converting genomic data into actionable, relevant intelligence Partially
Advanced Cell Diagnostics Diagnostic tests for personalized medicine Unlikely
Epic Sciences Early cancer detection systems Unlikely
Ignyta New drug discovery efforts in oncology Unlikely
Eve Biomedical Low -cost gene sequencing equipment for medical applications Unlikely
Sctheranostics Drug Discovery efforts on Patient derived cells in cardiology Unlikely
Kuraoncology New drug discovery efforts in oncology Unlikely
Genoptix Specialized oncology diagnostic services Unlikely
Precipio Diagnostics Cancer diagnostics reference laboratory Unlikely
Population Diagnostics Develop personalized DNA-based diagnostics Unlikely
Blueprint Health Startup accelerator, and crowdsources genetic and clinical datasets Unlikely
Rosetta Genomics Discovery, the development and commercialization of diagnostic testing Unlikely
Everist Health A machine learning technique producing mathematical models for cardiac patients Unlikely
Microarrays Array-based technologies for biological research, detection and diagnostics, Unlikely
PHIGENIX Novel molecular therapeutics which target the immune system against cancer. Unlikely
Genomind Pharmacogenetic laboratory testing for psychiatry Unlikely
Permedly Connects doctors & personalized medicine solutions via a software platform Unlikely

Company website: http://www.lanternpharma.com/

Available jobs

Concluding lines

Lantern’s approach will benefit not only those who are determined to be likely responders but also those patients who are deemed non-responders who will be reprieved from the costs, false hopes, and potential side effects of enduring a futile treatment. In addition, a lot of research dollars spent on the drug discovery efforts from the taxpayers’ money can be recovered by re-discovering their use in smaller subsets of patients.

 

 

Featured image source: Adam Simpson

GIF source: giphy.com

Infographics: Created using canva.com

 References:

  1. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601843/precision-medicine-pioneer/
  2. http://thelongandshort.org/life-death/precision-medicine
  3. http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/7p3zs6/precision
  4. http://www.healthworkscollective.com/eborukhovich/328623/tech-and-precision-medicine-29-companies-who-will-lead-charge
  5. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160310005651/en/Global-Precision-Medicine-Market-2015-2022—Key
  6. http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/02/28/the-future-of-precision-medicine-great-promise-significant-challenges/
  7. https://www.statnews.com/2016/11/25/precision-medicine-leaders/

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for news and information. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Copyright: The contents of Medness is the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non Profit 501(c)3 is an initiative of the alumni of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to buildup NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.)

Transitioning as an Editor at Cell Press: Face-to-Face with Colleen Brady

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Scientific conferences are major networking events for scientists at various stages of their careers. Some find collaborators, some find career development opportunities, but nevertheless everyone builds their network. I met Colleen in a Keystone meeting while presenting my poster and it was nice to know that she is an Emory alumnus. We discussed science not only in experimental aspects but also in her career as a scientific editor. Not only did she agree to share her career transition story, she also introduced me to a treasure trove of similar stories from editors at Cell Press with advice for those wanting to be an editor as well as perspectives from different editors who give their background and reasons for becoming an editor. In this Face-to-Face interview with Colleen Brady (CB), we will learn how her editorial career path to Cell Press shaped-up while honing her science communication skills as a bench scientist at Stanford and Harvard universities.- Abhinav Dey (AD)

AD: Please tell us about your academic background?

CB: Before coming to Cell Press, I completed a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital and a PhD in Cancer Biology at Stanford University.  My training included some breadth beyond one technique or system, which was helpful preparation for academic editing.  As a PhD student, I studied the transactivation functions of the tumor suppressor p53 using mouse and cell model systems.  As a postdoc, I learned the zebrafish system and studied retinal regeneration using chemical biology screening techniques.  I also enjoyed teaching as both a student and a postdoc, which helped build my communication skills.

AD: As an editor at Cell Press, what does a normal day at work look like?

CB: I spend much of my time reading and evaluating science.  Our team meets almost every day to have an editorial meeting where we discuss manuscripts under consideration, including newly submitted manuscripts as well as those that have undergone peer review.  For new manuscripts, we read them and consider them within the framework of our journal and in the context of previous publications.  We consider the strength of the data as well as the level of conceptual advance over previously published work and whether the overall manuscript aligns with our journal’s scope.  When we decide to send a paper for peer review, I investigate potential reviewers with expertise in the key areas of the paper. After peer review, I synthesize the reviewer feedback along with our original editorial assessment to determine the best course for the manuscript.  I spend a portion of each day writing decision letters and responding to author inquiries and appeals.  My job also includes other activities such as going to conferences and visiting labs, where I can learn about the latest research, meet people in our community, and help scientists decide whether or not to submit their paper to our journal. These meetings can also help us identify topics for potential review articles. Editors also work on committees with the aim of improving the way we publish science.  For example, a lot of committee work went into our new methods format called STAR methods.  I wasn’t part of that committee, but maybe I’ll be involved in our next big project.

AD: What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into scientific editor?

CB: I enjoy thinking and communicating about science,  and my original career plan was to be a professor at a small liberal arts school.  Partway into my postdoc, curiosity led me to a “meet the experts” session at a conference, where I joined the group of a scientific editor.  I didn’t know what to expect, but she planted a seed that this might be an interesting career for me.  A year later, when I saw a job opening at Cell Press I decided to apply.  The interview process convinced me that I would enjoy the work, and when I got the job I was happy to accept it.

AD: How did you train yourself into science editing? What resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure served useful towards achieving your goals?

CB: The traditional academic training in a PhD and postdoc provides many of the skills needed for editing.  Reading and thinking critically about a broad spectrum of science is key to this job.  Changing model organisms and topic areas required a significant amount of research reading when I started my postdoc.  My lab colleagues had diverse projects, and I tried to ask them critical questions about their work and think of key experiments that might advance their findings.  Journal clubs and helping my mentors evaluate papers for journal peer review were other structured ways I worked on these skills.  In fact, I always suggest that people interested in editing should try to get some experience by helping his/her mentor with peer review.

AD: Can you share the most important skills that you highlighted in your CV/interview during the job application process?

CB: The interview process for an editorial position always includes some written and verbal exercises intended to both expose the interviewee to editorial-style work as well as to test his or her aptitude for evaluating manuscripts.  I took these very seriously, and found them fun.  On my CV, I highlighted my strong academic training, prior communication-related work, and publication record.

AD: What are the long-term goals associated with a career in this field?

CB: There are many different trajectories that a career in editing could lead to. The most obvious option is to remain in editing and become a senior editor or even Editor-in-Chief of a journal.  Other editors develop an interest in a different role in publishing.  I have also seen people leave for jobs in academic science as program managers or to work as grant writers.  Scientific expertise, decision making skills, and strong communication skills can lead to many different possibilities.  Being an editor can be a great way to stay involved in science without a job at the bench.

We thank Colleen for sharing her experience with us and we wish her success in her upcoming endeavors.

Colleen Brady was interviewed by Abhinav Dey.
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured image source: Pixabay

FDA Breakthrough A’La CAR-T: Medness Focus on Novartis CTL019

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What’s the big news?

Novartis announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted the company’s Biologics License Application (BLA) filing and granted priority review for CTL019 (tisagenlecleucel-T), an investigational Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, in relapsed and refractory (r/r) pediatric and young adult patients with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This is the first BLA submission by Novartis for a CAR-T. The priority review designation is expected to shorten the anticipated review time by the FDA.

What’s even bigger?

On April 18 (2017) CTL019 received the FDA granted breakthrough therapy designation for the treatment of adults with relapsed and refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma who failed two or more prior therapies. Read more

What is ALL?

Image reference

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Each part of its name tells you something about the cancer itself:

    • Acute: Often fast-growing, requires early detection and treatment. Without treatment, bone marrow cells developmentally impaired, resulting in an unhealthy bone marrow filled with proliferating abnormal lymphocytes.
    • Lymphoblastic: Affects the lymphocytes of a patient’s white blood cells. Alternative term is lymphocytic.
    • Leukemia: Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells.
  • Most common cancer in children, but it can also occur in adults of all ages (bimodal age distribution, with peaks at 3-7 years and 65 years of age).
  • Clinical presentation is nonspecific:
    1. fever;
    2. infection;
    3. bleeding;
    4. bone pain;
    5. lymphadenopathy;
    6. CNS involvement.
  • Disease classification based on evaluation of cells derived from a bone marrow or tissue biopsy. Clonal cells may be B cells (B-precursor lineage, 75%) or T cells. There are three main different ALL subtypes as follows:
    1. Pre (precursor) B cell ALL – most common in adults
    2. Mature B cell ALL – identified by particular genetic changes
    3. Pre (precursor) T cell ALL – more likely in young adults and more common in men
  • Management involves
    • remission induction with combination chemotherapy.
    • intrathecal chemotherapy is indicated for all patients to prevent CNS relapse.
    • Post-remission, patients undergo 1-3 years of maintenance therapy to eliminate residual disease.
    • Read more

 

What’s the history ?

  • CAR T-cell therapy, may appear to be overnight success, has a long experimental history.  Chemist and immunologist, Zelig Eshhar, developed the first CAR-T cells at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in the late 1980s. In 1990, Eshhar took a year-long sabbatical, joined Steven Rosenberg at the National Institutes of Health, and prepared CARs that targeted human melanoma. “We designed CAR T cells to overcome a number of problems in getting T cells to attack cancer,” says Eshhar. The problems being a tumor’s ability to escape immune recognition by preventing the major histocompatibility complex molecules and the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment.

  • CTL019 first developed by the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) by Carl June‘s group (link to original NEJM paper). Read more.
  • In 2012, Novartis and Penn created a global collaboration to advance research, develop and then commercialize CAR-T cell therapies, including CTL019, for the investigational treatment of cancers. Through the collaboration, Novartis holds the worldwide rights to CARs developed with Penn for all cancer indications. In March 2017, Novartis announced that the FDA accepted the company’s Biologics License Application filing and granted priority review for CTL019 in the treatment of r/r pediatric and young adult patients with B-cell ALL.

 

What is the science behind it?

  • CAR-T therapies exploit the capability of a patient’s immune system to fight their disease, (sometimes referred to as “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment).
  • Therapy involves engineering patients’ own immune cells to recognize and attack their tumors (popularly known as Adoptive Cell Transfer).
  • Renier J. Brentjens, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) describes it like “giving patients a living drug.”

 

What was the outcome of the clinical trials?

  • The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study (link) showed disappearance of all signs of cancer (a complete response) in 27 of the 30 patients treated. 19 out of 27 are still in remission
  • The NIH Pediatric Oncology Branch study (link) 14 of 20 patients had a complete response with 10 of them receiving successful stem cell transplant and remain cancer free.
  • The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer center (MSKCC) clinical trial study (link) 14 of the 16 participants showed complete response and 7 eligible patients got stem cell transplant staying cancer-free.
  • The NCI-led study (link) showed “Of 15 patients, eight achieved complete remissions (CRs), four achieved partial remissions, one had stable lymphoma, and two were not evaluable for response”. This showed the “effectiveness of treating chemotherapy-refractory B-cell malignancies with anti-CD19 CAR T cells”.
  • Novartis clinical trial (ELIANA) evaluating efficacy and safety of CTL019 (with study enrollment having occurred across 25 centers in the US, EU, Canada, Australia and Japan) found that 82% (41 of 50) of infused patients achieved complete remission.
  • The second global CAR-T trial, JULIET, following the Novartis ELIANA study, led FDA to confer Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Treatment of Adult Patients withrelapsed and refractory (r/r) diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The findings from JULIET are expected to be presented at an upcoming medical congress.

What are some of the doubts?

  • CAR-T, which induces an extreme immune response that attacks cancer cells, can create a cytokine storm leading to extreme side effects like high fever.
  • CAR-T might need the best – and presumably the most highly-paid – doctors and healthcare teams to ensure patients can manage the side effects.
  • The laboratory process of extracting immune system T-cells from each individual patient and altering the DNA to create chimeric antigen receptors will create additional costs (totaling upto $500,000-750,000 to treat one patient). Health providers might not be ready to foot the bill.
  • Initial failures from competitor Juno Therapeutics have created doubts on Novartis pulling out of the study. Novartis has previously backed out of large research programs like RNA interference.

What should the patients and their families know?

  • CTL019 is an investigational therapy- safety and efficacy profile not yet established.
  • Access to investigational therapies only available through carefully controlled and monitored clinical trials.
  • No guarantee that CTL019 will ever be commercially available anywhere in the world.

MedNess Quotient

After the announcement, Novartis shares were little changed but the shares of the company making CTL019 raw materials, Oxford BioMedica, rose by more than 4.5 percent. Alternatively, Kite Pharma, Novartis’ rival in CAR-T race, also submitted a rolling application for their chimeric antigen receptor T cell candidate. Rolling applications are allowed for promising new drugs. Kite’s application could be accepted early putting behind Novartis’. Therefore, the winner of the CAR-T race will set the price of the therapy and subsequently the stocks (Reuters and Nasdaq).

References and additional reading:

  1. https://www.novartis.com/news/media-releases/novartis-presents-results-first-global-registration-trial-ctl019-pediatric-and
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/research/car-t-cells
  3. https://www.drugs.com/history/ctl019.html
  4. https://www.novartis.com/news/media-releases/novartis-car-t-cell-therapy-ctl019-receives-fda-breakthrough-therapy-designation
  5. https://pharmaphorum.com/views-and-analysis/will-car-t-profitable-pharma/
  6. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-09/uops-prr_1082515.php
  7. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/42462/title/The-CAR-T-Cell-Race/
  8. http://www.healthline.com/health/acute-lymphocytic-leukemia-survival-rate-outlook#overview1
  9. http://www.azfamily.com/story/35026270/novartis-announces-first-car-t-cell-therapy-bla-for-pediatric-and-young-adult-patients-with-rr-b-cell-all-granted-fda-priority-review

Featured image source: Twitter

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for news and information. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Multiple Sclerosis, Single Lead- Medness Focus on Ocrevus

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What’s the news?

The multiple sclerosis community has been eagerly awaiting the approval of the drug Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), which will be used to treat patients who have relapsing MS (RMS) and primary progressive MS (PPMS). The FDA’s decision of final approval came on March 28, coinciding with Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week.

Ocrelizumab is the first and only investigational drug

  • to show greater efficacy in both RMS and PPMS in clinical studies.
  • to consistently and significantly reduce disease activity and disability progression compared with a standard-of-care high-dose interferon (Rebif®).
  • to significantly reduce the progression of physical disability in primary progressive MS in a large Phase III study (ORATORIO).
  • that has the potential to address an important unmet need in MS.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is a chronic, typically progressive disease involving damage to the sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Patients with MS may show paresthesias (tingling sensation), blurred vision, optic neuritis (painful unilateral vision loss), clumsiness, muscle weakness, cognitive decline, and urinary dysfunction. Unfortunately, the neuron in the picture is also feeling some of these signs. The Lhermitte sign is caused when neck flexion creates electric shock-like sensations down the back and limbs.

Types of MS

1.    Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS) First episode of neurologic symptoms caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system.

2.    Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms.

3.    Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) worsening neurologic function (accumulation of disability) from the onset of symptoms, without early relapses or remissions.

4.    Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) Most people who are diagnosed with RRMS will eventually transition to a secondary progressive course in which there is a progressive worsening of neurologic function (accumulation of disability) over time.

The History

In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a lot of improvement in the battle against MS to benefit the 2.3 million people worldwide who have this ailment. Notwithstanding these developments, people with RMS continue to need medications that offer the possibility for greater efficacy than standard-of-care interferons, with a favorable safety profile.

For people with PPMS there were no approved treatments before Ocrevus. Previous Phase III trials with investigational medicines have been unsuccessful in demonstrating a significant effect on disability progression in PPMS.

What is the science behind it?

Ocrevus

  • targets myelin-attacking B-cells (unlike similar medications attacking T-cells)
  • is an anti-CD20 humanized monoclonal antibody

Image source

How was the drug developed?

Genentech’s Medical Director, Peter Chin, said “The journey of ocrelizumab in MS started about 15 years ago, when Genentech began collaborating with academic researchers at major universities to investigate the importance of B cells in MS and their potential as a therapeutic target. The first small proof-of-concept studies showed that CD20+ B cells appeared to play a more important role in MS than anybody previously thought.”

Read the full interview with Genentech’s Peter Chin here

What was the outcome of the trials?

More than 1,600 MS patients enrolled in clinical trials for Ocrevus and 94 percent of participants had fewer brain lesions during the 96 weeks of treatment.

A summary of the data from the OPERA I, OPERA II and ORATORIO studies that support this approval can be found here.

What are some of the doubts?

There was little increased risk of infection (link). 

The clinical trials for Ocrevus also found that while patients taking the drug did have a slightly increased risk of common colds and flu, they had no significant increased risk of other infections when compared to patients taking the alternative medication, Rebif.

Some concerns like “Targeting B cells in MS patients appears to be Ocrevus’ strength, but depleting B cells also raises safety concerns” were addressed to Dr Chin. He responded saying, “Ocrelizumab selectively binds to CD20, a cell surface antigen expressed by a subset of B cells. CD20 is not expressed on stem cells or antibody-producing plasma cells, and therefore pre-existing humoral immunity and the ability to reconstitute B cells may be preserved. Since the CD20 protein is not found on many other cells of the immune system, they can continue to fight infection and other illnesses.

What should the patients and their families know?

Ocrevus

  • will be administered by intravenous infusion every six months.
  • will be used for treating primary progressive MS.
  • will also be used for treating relapsing MS patients.
  • may have potential serious side effects which may include infusion reactions, infections and malignancies where only routine screening is required based on age and medical history

Medness Quotient from Imit Kaur

“Analysts forecast annual sales exceeding $3 billion by 2021 as reported by Reuters. After the approval news, Biogen stock fell by 2%, and Roche stock rose by a fraction. Novartis’s drug for MS treatment, BAF312, for secondary progressive MS is expected to receive regulatory approval in the first half of 2017. Until then, Roche can bask in glory  (Reuters, Investor’s Business Daily, FiercePharma).”

Featured image source: Pixabay

References:

  1. https://www.gene.com/media/press-releases/14657/2017-03-28/fda-approves-genentechs-ocrevus-ocrelizu?platform=hootsuite
  2. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Types-of-MS
  3. https://multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com/2017/02/28/transcript-of-interview-with-genentech-peter-chin-on-ocrevus-for-multiple-sclerosis/

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for news and information. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Transitioning to Pharmaceutical Research: Face-to-Face with Mark Musters from Lead Pharma

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Welcome mixers are great events at conferences. To introduce myself, I generally shorten my name not only for ease of communication but also to save 1-2 minutes in getting the pronunciation right. However, when I met Mark and introduced myself as Abhi he was quick to ask if I am Abhi or Abhinav. I realized my nametag gave that away. We happened to exchange several notes and by the end of the conference he was nice enough to agree to talk about his career transition to pharmaceutical research for ClubSciWri. It has been a pleasure to know about his work and career. – Abhinav Dey (AD)

Mark MUSTERS, PhD

Mark W.J.M. Musters (born 1980, The Netherlands) obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology, followed by a PhD degree in computational systems biology at the same university in 2007. He continued his career at Wageningen University as a postdoctoral researcher by constructing detailed mathematical models of the central metabolism. In 2010, he started as a scientist at Lead Pharma, a small pharmaceutical company that develops innovative medicines to treat cancer and immune-related diseases. He is currently a project leader of an oncology and an immunology project.

AD: Can you briefly describe your role at Lead Pharma? What does a normal workday look like?

MM: Lead Pharma is a small pharmaceutical company (about 30 employees) that develops small molecular compounds to treat cancer and (auto-)immune diseases. I am a project leader of an immunology (atopic dermatitis) and oncology (metastatic melanoma) project. As a project leader, my main responsibility is that the project team develops potent and selective small molecular compound within a predefined time frame. A normal workday consists of structuring and coordinating all activities between the different groups (chemistry, molecular pharmacology, cellular pharmacology), informing team members and management about the progress, communicating with external parties, writing grant proposals and troubleshooting (if necessary). Besides being a project leader, I also analyze large -omics data sets to search for novel biomarkers and new targets that we could work on in the near future.

AD: What made you decide to move into industry rather than stay on the academic track?

MM: After completing my post-doc, I felt it was the right time to move to industry: I only worked for universities and research institutes and I was curious how working at a company would be. It turned out to be an excellent decision. The work at Lead Pharma is diverse and we collaborate in multidisciplinary teams towards a common goal. However, our fundamental research activities are limited compared to (top) academic groups and we do not publish our data either. That is certainly something to keep in mind.

AD: How did you prepare for your current interview? Which skills were essential apart from your scientific skills that helped you make the cut?

MM; I gathered information about the company (history, background of founders, mission, etc.), such that I could ask some questions during the interview as well. Personally, I think that I was hired because my personality matched very well with the company profile and I was honest in answering all questions during the interview. In addition, my pragmatic attitude and pathological optimism might have helped as well.

AD: How did your post-doc experience at prepare you for your position today?

MM: During my post-doc experience, I collaborated much more with “wet lab” experimentalists. Because I had a background in mathematical modeling, this trained me to communicate and understand biological research.

AD: Did you use any of the resources at your postdoctoral institution to prepare for your job hunt?

MM:Nope.

AD: How do you achieve work-life balance?

MM: Fortunately, our company offers its employees some flexibility and the management recognizes the importance of your personal life, which makes it easier to achieve a healthy work-life balance. This means that sometimes my workday is shorter, but a week later I work the whole weekend to finish an important presentation.

AD: Do you have any advice for postdocs considering careers in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry? What can they do to make themselves competitive?

MM: Prepare yourself! Read about how the pharmaceutical industry operates.  There are some good books available about drug development (and I don’t mean books like “Bad Pharma”). Ask yourself the questions: what would you like to do at a pharmaceutical company? And what unique expertise do you have that could help the company? That would be a good start.

 

 

Mark Musters was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured image source: Pixabay

Transitioning to an Editorial job @Nature Medicine: Face-to-Face with Javier Carmona

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I met Javier in a recently concluded Keystone meeting in Big Sky, MT. The meeting organizers had created an app for the participants to interact online. I found Javier on the app’s database as a participant from Nature Medicine and I reached out to him. He was kind enough to find time and discuss the nuances of a career transition into science editing. He agreed for a Face-to-Face interview with me and appreciated our efforts in helping the postdoctoral community identify their calling from the multitude of careers in science.  Javier (JC) started his studies at the University of Navarra and received a degree in Biology from the Autonomous University of Madrid. In 2013, he obtained his Ph.D. after working in Manel Esteller’s Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program in Barcelona. Javier continued his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of José Baselga at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he studied the mechanisms of resistance to therapy in patients with breast cancer. In 2016 he joined Nature Medicine as an Assistant Editor. Despite having a background in biomedicine, he has a myriad of scientific interests, and occasionally writes about different topics on the blog Mapping Ignorance . Javier is also an editor at Science Seeker where he selects top posts in the fields of medicine and general biology. You can follow him on Twitter @FJCarmonas.- Abhinav Dey (AD)

AD:    Please tell us about your academic research background?

JC: I studied biology at University of Navarra and I specialized in cell & molecular biology. As an undergraduate I did some rotations in different labs, and towards the end I started collaborating regularly in a laboratory at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, in Madrid (Spain) where I eventually completed my PhD. In my grad school, I worked on cancer epigenetics with a focus on identifying DNA methylation biomarkers for cancer diagnosis. I also got involved in many collaborations and got exposed to several different research areas –definitely an enriching experience!  After completing my PhD I started a postdoc at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), in New York (USA), which lasted two and a half years. My postdoctoral research focused on breast cancer biology and tyrosine-kinase receptor signaling in relation to therapy resistance.

AD:    What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into scientific editor?

JC: As I considered my long-term career, I wanted to explore alternative paths to academic research that would, however, allow me to stay in touch with science. After considering different options, I realized that the world of scientific editing was the perfect one. This was because it’s a great opportunity to keep learning about the latest scientific advances on many different areas of research, which was exactly what I was looking for.

AD:   How did you train yourself into science editing? What resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure served useful towards achieving your goals?

JC: Being trained in different areas of research and getting involved in different projects provided me with a broad view of scientific research and allowed me to create relationships with researchers in other fields. Also, being able to identify the main message when hearing a talk or reading a paper and detecting strengths and weaknesses –while participating in lab meetings and journal clubs-, are important skills that became very useful when I transitioned career paths. Lastly, towards the end of my postdoc I started to collaborate as a free-lance writer for different science blogs where I wrote about scientific advances; this helped me to develop my science communication skills.

AD: Can you share 5 most important skills that you highlighted in your CV/interview during the job application process?

JC: I think having a broad view of scientific research; a critical view and analytical capacity; showing ability to interact with people from different backgrounds; and being enthusiastic and open-minded about learning new concepts and ideas, are important skills in this type of job.

AD: As an editor at Nature Medicine, what does a normal day at work look like?

JC: Most of the time is devoted to reading scientific manuscripts that are submitted for consideration to the journal. As the editor responsible for cancer biology, I handle most of the manuscripts in this area; however, we also have editorial meetings every week in which we discuss those manuscripts we consider of highest interest, so I get to hear about manuscripts from other research areas, including neurobiology, cardiovascular research, infectious disease, etc. In addition to evaluating manuscripts, we also attend scientific meetings on many different topics. These are great opportunities to interact with researchers as well as to hear the most recent scientific discoveries.

AD: How do you achieve work-life balance?

JC: I think it’s important to maintain an equilibrium between work and life-out-of-work, and so I try to make time to practice sports as often as I can –either running around central park or leaving the city to do some hiking or skiing. Also, in a city like New York the cultural offer is huge, so we try to enjoy as much as possible the concerts and exhibitions going on at all times. And of course, traveling, either for a weekend or for longer times when possible, it’s a great way to disconnect and enjoy the time off.

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We thank Javier for sharing his experience with us and we wish him success in his upcoming endeavors.

Javier Carmona was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

 

Featured image source: Pixabay

Transitioning to a faculty position in Australia: Face to Face with Ranjay Chakraborty

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The Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs has brought you stories of career transitions from United States, Europe and India. This time around we go ‘down-under’ and have tete-a-tete with Dr Ranjay Chakraborty (RC). Ranjay is transitioning from a postdoctoral position at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) to academic faculty position at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia). In his Face-t0-Face interview with Abhinav Dey (AD) he talks about his aspirations, his efforts and his future plans in Australian academia.

AD: How did you know it was time to move on from your postdoctoral fellowship to your first professional position?

RC: After completing my PhD at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane (Australia) in 2013, I was excited to join my first postdoctoral position at Emory. In addition to geographical and cultural changes, I was looking forward to my transition from human visual optics research to visual neuroscience research in animal models. I feel, 3.5 years of postdoctoral experience at Emory provided me optimal exposure to the world of academia, and helped me better understand the bigger picture of being an academic. Of course, with time, I matured as a scientist, and started feeling more confident about looking for academic positions. By third year, I made some good publications from the current lab, and was working on an Early Research Career Development award. At that point, I started looking for academic positions (mostly outside the USA due to visa restrictions), and was lucky to get one.

AD: What was your motivation towards an academic career?

RC: I enjoyed doing vision science research during my PhD and postdoctoral fellowship. I have invested so many years in research that I was absolutely sure of continuing it, wherever I go. Although I didn’t get to do a lot, I loved teaching visual optics in India, and during my graduate studies in Australia. I was looking for a platform, where I could bring both research and teaching together. This was my strongest motivation for an academic career. In Australia, my position would also allow me to see patients in the clinic as an optometrist; something that I totally enjoyed in the past.

AD: How do you foresee the academic research environment in Australia?

RC: Similar to the US, establishing a research career in Australia is challenging. From my previous experience, I know that NIH equivalent, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council fundings are extremely competitive. I am looking to develop collaborations within and outside the Vision Science dept. for making competitive grant applications. I will also be looking for industrial funding.

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Image courtesy: Ranjay Chakraborty

AD: How did your postdoc training make you competitive for an academic position?

RC: My postdoc training at Emory has been truly instrumental in preparing me for this academic position. It helped me to develop a range of analytical and research skills that were crucial for this position. In addition to basic science research, I learned about academic writing, mentorship, journal and data review, data presentation, collaborative research and many other things that helped me to develop as more mature and confident professional. It has been a magnificent journey from my grad school to the end of this postdoctoral position. I am really thankful to my postdoctoral mentors Drs. Machelle T. Pardue and P. Michael Iuvone for this precious postdoctoral training opportunity at Emory.

AD: What advice do you have for postdocs to make best use of their time?

RC: This is my first position, and I am too young to advice anything in particular. Postdocs are generally very disciplined and assiduous, and they exactly know that it’s time for either “publish or perish”. One small advice – try not to restrain yourself to just “lab and experiments”. Every once in a while traveling and time with family and friends help becoming more productive and focused at work.

AD: Can you briefly describe your plans about the size and mentorship style of your laboratory?

RC: Australian academic positions have a lot more teaching load compared to the positions in the US. In the 1st year, my primary focus would be preparing the lectures, and set up the lab. I am going to take it easy, and keep my lab small at the beginning. I plan to hire a research technician to get started with my projects. I would extend my research group in the future depending on projects and funding situation. I intend to hire people who are deferential, good team players, and inherently motivated to do good research. I would design robust policies in the lab for running experiments, ordering materials, lab meetings with individual lab members/groups, data management and storage, authorships, attending meetings and developing collaborations. I would want my group to be transparent, and feel free about discussing their issues with me and each other.

AD: Do you have teaching responsibilities?

RC: As I mentioned previously, Australian faculty positions have a lot more teaching load compared to the positions in the US. I do not have a lot of teaching experience, and I look forward to this new role in Australia.

AD: Were there any specific resources such as the Office of Postdoctoral Education that you utilized to help you transition into an independent position?

RC: Yes, a number of courses/workshops from Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education have been really helpful in introducing me to several critical aspects of academic positions in the US. I was particularly benefited from K award grant writing course, laboratory management course, and responsible conduct of research ethics course offered by the Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education. I also attended workshops for “how to prepare teaching and research statements”, “how to look and apply for academic positions”, and “preparing CV and NIH statement”. These courses helped me to evaluate whether or not I really wanted to pursue academia.

AD: Do you have any advice for postdocs about grant writing and successfully obtaining funding?

RC: I do not have any major funding to myself, so I am not the best person to advice on that. But, from my postdoctoral experience at Emory, I have learned that early grant applications based on solid pilot data are imperative to applying for successful academic positions. Early applications within the first two years of postdoc (such as departmental grants) do not have to be too extensive, but they set you up for the habit of grant writing. Of course, publications are equally important. As we all know, first 4 years of postdoc are critical for several early career grants in the US.

AD: Do you have any advice for postdocs making the transition to an independent career?

RC: As I mentioned earlier, the key is to decide whether or not you really want to pursue an independent career. If you do, it doesn’t harm to start applying sooner. With a clear and well-structured research aim, decent publications, adequate skill sets, and strong references you could have a decent chance to get a tenure-track position, perhaps stronger than you might think!

Ranjay Chakraborty was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured image source: Pixabay

 

From cloning genes to directing X-rays: Face to Face with Nishant Kumar Varshney

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Dr Nishant Kumar Varshney is working as a Beamline Scientist on an Indo-Italian Macromolecular Crystallography beamline XRD2 at Elettra Sincrotrone, Trieste, Italy, which will be open to Users in start of the 2017. The Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs caught up with him about his career and experience while working in an unconventional postdoctoral career of a Beamline Scientist after a PhD in Structural Biology.

He did his bachelors in Chemistry from DU and Masters in Marine Biotechnology from Goa University in 2005. Completed his PhD in 2013 from Biochemical Sciences Division, CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India on structure-function relationship of three enzymes that has industrial and therapeutic applications. During his PhD, he received Commonwealth Split-Site Scholarship to work for an year in York Structural Biology Laboratory, University of York, UK, where he developed his interest in the field of Structure Based Drug Discovery field.

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In Nishant’s (NKV) words, “First, I would like to thank Abhinav Dey (AD) for adding me to CSG group and now giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts about new Indo-Italian joint venture at Elettra Synchrotron, Trieste, Italy which we Inaugurated last month.”

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(XRD2 Beamline; Picture source: NKV)

AD: During your graduate school, when did you realize you wanted to try a different research-based career than conventional postdoc?

NKV: Actually the thought and the opportunity came after the PhD, when I was working as Research Associate (RA) in National Center for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune. During my PhD, I was working both at the bench (cloning, expressing, purifying and setting up protein for crystallization) as well as collecting data at our home source for my proteins and sometimes helping other collaborators. Like most of the graduate students, I dreamt of getting a conventional post doc position abroad and coming back after few years for some decent permanent position in India. It was during RA-ship, that I saw the ad for a Beamline Scientist position at the new Indian beamline at Elettra. I thought of it as a good opportunity to not only learn about the working of beamlines but also having plenty of time to play and learn with data collection strategies to get best out of your protein crystals. Moreover, the idea of helping different users with different projects and, if possible, making some worthy contribution to their projects excited me too.

AD: What is your typical work day like?

NKV: Most often our day starts with a black filter coffee at 9 🙂 and ends around 6pm. Currently, we are at the final stages of commissioning the beamline and implementing an automated instrument on the experimental table. Since working at the beamline is a first time for me, my work schedule usually revolves around my local supervisor and Head of our group, Maurizio. We help our supervisors with the work and learn out of it. Everyday there is something new to learn. We set small targets with deadlines and sometimes we work till late to meet those deadlines. Also being an industry, there are many other usual administrative/non administrative appointments also to be taken care of.

AD: Do you think having a PhD was an advantage for you in the current job?

NKV: Yes. Experience and a degree in structural biology were the essential educational qualifications for this job. I was brought into the field of X-ray diffraction, protein crystallization, three-dimensional structures etc. in practice during my PhD only. Having hands-on experience with these techniques and a visit to a Beamline in Diamond, UK during my Commonwealth Scholarship tenure gave me experience and confidence to apply for this job. Some technical terms and what’s behind the walls of Experimental Hutch was totally new to me in the beginning but I think I am getting better day-by-day.

AD: How was the transition from a bench to a synchrotron?

NKV: I would say transition was not that easy. Coming from enjoying a mostly wet lab, handling buffers/proteins and transitioning to the technical aspects of a synchrotron where I was expected to understand as well as install beamline components, alignments, installing vacuum etc. was initially too much technical for me. Mathematics has not been my strongest subject so I am still trying to get better with the numbers.

AD: What would you recommend as first steps for students/postdocs interested in pursuing a fellowship in handling this kind of job?

NKV: If one is coming to synchrotron as a user, I would say, apart from having familiarity with data processing programs and knowing your proteins, you need not to worried about what’s behind the walls of Experimental Hutch. Beamline staff should teach you how things work at the Experimental table and how to collect data. But if someone wants to be a Beamline Scientist or a Beamline Postdoc, first step is to develop your love for the technical aspects of a beamlines. Brushing up your Physics or say Biophysics will also help you to understand your work. It is also important to keep in mind that it is not a 9-5 job and you should be ready to devote long days sometimes.

AD: Having gone through interviews as an applicant yourself, what are a couple of things that could help a PhD standout from the crowd?

NKV: Especially for a job at the Beamlines, working knowledge of the beamline, however little it may be, through regular visits to the synchrotron for data collection and processing the data on your own will make you stand out. Familiarity with different programs for data collection to structure deposition will help you for the job. Apart from that, one should enjoy working with the users and be ready to help them to sort out the technical as well as practical problems outside the normal office hours.

AD: Was there anything (positive or negative) that you were surprised about this job/profession that you didn’t expect until you were in it?

NKV: As a matter of personal opinion, anyone who starts the unconventional career, will wish to have a sense of stability in his/her tenure. As I am working in an Italian Industry, as a visiting Scientist on an India-funded project, there is always an insecurity regarding the length and timing of the next extension. Moreover, the absence of funds available for in-house research and for attending/presenting work in the conferences was not what I expected.

AD: Please tell us about the new Indo-Italian venture and what do you foresee of this collaboration for the development of science in India?

NKV: Till the date, India is either renting beamtimes for macromolecular crystallography e.g. BM14 beamline in ESRF or funding visits to other beamlines of the world. This is the first time when India is a partner right from the design, construction, commissioning and maintenance of two beamlines at synchrotron. The XRD2 and Xpress beamlines are a part of a scientific partnership between India and Italy under a project administered through the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bangalore with financial support from Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India and Elettra Sincrotrone,Trieste. The Xpress experimental station has been constructed to study the structure of materials under high- pressure using the technique of X-ray diffraction of samples subjected to the action of two diamonds that can exert higher pressures to 50 GPa. In this way the researchers will be able to access the possibility of synthesizing new superconducting materials, harder and more resistant. This beamline will also be applied in other areas, such as mineralogy and geophysics. XRD2 is a dedicated beamline to determine three-dimensional structures of proteins and biological macromolecules with application in biology, medicine, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. XRD2 is an highly automated and tunable beamline with state of the art instruments which will allow to collect faster X-ray diffraction data from protein crystals in highly automated way better than collected using home source. With 50% share in the project, now Indian crystallographers and High Pressure diffraction groups will have plenty of beamtime accessible to them. Once the proposal has been accepted, DST will provide the travel and daily cost funds.

AD: What are the career possibilities after being trained at the cutting edge of your field?

NKV: The field of macromolecular crystallography is still in a developing stage. There is lot to explore and develop in the field right from the data collection step to relate the structure to its function. With the experience at the synchrotron, prospects of developing your own research in the field are always open. Working in Pharmaceuticals Industries mainly involved in Structure based Drug Discovery is another option. With all the knowledge of the structural biology, a career in academics is also a possibility. Moreover, with the advent of Free-Electron lasers and new developments in alternative techniques, three-dimensional structure determination of macromolecules using serial crystallography and Cryo-Electron Microscopy and Cryo-Imaging techniques are the new open fields where experience in structural biology is a desirable qualification.
I hope, these facilities will be very beneficial to our Indian researchers.

 

 

Nishant Kumar Varshney was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured image source: Pixabay

Transitioning to Academia in India- Face to Face with Punit Prasad

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Punit PunitInstt

Most of the graduate school training during PhD and postdoctoral tenure is focused on shaping the minds to tread the academic path. The trainees, therefore, always look forward to academia is their natural progression to move up the academic ivory tower. However, in today’s funding scenario the limited academic options are making PhDs re-think their career path. As scientists by training we are never expected to follow herd instinct, even when it comes to picking and choosing classical vs unconventional career options. You will find resonance in to this fact when you read Punit Prasad’s interview with Club SciWri. Punit recently transitioned from being a postdoc at Karolinska to a Faculty position at the Institute of Life Sciences (Bhubaneswar, India). But before deciding in favor of academia he did test the waters in industrial research, until he found his true calling in academia. Find out more about his planned roadmap to an academic career and start gearing-up early if you believe that academia is the place where you want to be!

  1. How did you know it was time to move on from your postdoctoral fellowship to your first professional position?

There are several points that I considered when I thought of applying for a professional position:

  1. Number of years into post doc: It should be 3 years and above such that your application gets some weightage. I gave my first talk for faculty position when I completed 3 years. At this point I was not expecting an offer but wanted to get exposure and experience on my future applications.
  2. Number of first author paper(s): It is important to have atleast one first author paper from your post doc. I had one shared first author paper in ‘EMBO J’ when I started applying. However, at that time I did not have any paper on the area I was planning to work as an independent faculty. It was seen as a negative point as I was shifting from yeast model system to haematopoietic development. Showing preliminary data in your proposal or during the talk does not help much. The screening committee wants to see that you have proved yourself in the area you plan to work. Therefore, I spent a year and half more until I got my paper in ‘Blood J’ accepted for the publication. This atleast gave a better response to my application. Corresponding authorship does help significantly. I had one corresponding author publication, a review. I am not sure if it helped but certainly is a big boost to your application.
  3. Area of research: I also learned that I have to differentiate between my future and my post doctoral research. In an ideal situation one has to have different aspects of study to avoid any overlap/conflict with one’s post doc mentor. This is a very important aspect, which I was asked in all the places I interviewed. I was preparing for it from the beginning of my post doc and I was able to convince the selection committee for the same.
  4. Other credentials: During my post doc I received several post doctoral grants as an independent investigator and was/is a co-supervisor of a MSc and a graduate student. I was also invited for platform presentation in reputed conferences. I think all these factors add value to the application. Personally, I think having independent grants added value to my application.

 

  1. What was your motivation towards an academic career?

I have several years of experience working in a company before starting my graduate studies. Therefore, I have got flavour of both industry and academics. I loved the freedom of doing science in academia. Through years of experience, I developed concepts and hypothesis to work in the field of chromatin biology and I got inclined to do more basic science. In short, freedom of doing science of my choice is my biggest motivation.

  1. What do you enjoy about being a professor?

Good question!! It’s been few months in my new position at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India and currently it is not fun. I have to learn the administrative processes in every small aspect. It takes enormous amount of time, leaving little opportunity to do science in the beginning. However, I believe it is a passing phase and soon I will get back to the bench. The excitement will be to train the students and do good science.

  1. How did your postdoc training make you competitive for an academic position?

I believe that the training starts from PhD and then continues in your postdoc. Few point that I would like to address regarding this:

  1. Research Projects: I was given full freedom to carry out research within the lab’s overall theme. Apart from my mentor, Prof. K. Ekwall’s interest in understating mechanistic details of chromatin remodelling in fission yeast, I could also initiate my work on understating the role of chromatin remodelling complexes in blood cell development. This gave me ‘space and time’ to develop the research area of my interest which I could carry out further as an independent faculty.
  2. Grants: Writing and obtaining successful grants is very important. I strongly suggest that one should keep writing grants even if they are not successful. I got good training during my PhD with Prof. Blaine Bartholomew, where he allowed me to write my project for the NIH grant. It was a great experience and his training helped significantly.
  3. Courses and workshops: Karolinska Institutet (KI) organises several courses/workshops and open discussion forums for leadership, mentoring, grant writing, lab safety, etc. I have attended some of them and have found them useful.
  4. Student training: I have supervised Master projects and am a co-supervisor of a PhD student at KI. This was a good experience for me as it ‘tuned’ me to handle students, their projects and other professional issues.

 

  1. What advice do you have for postdocs to make best use of their time?

I have already mentioned several points in response to previous questions. My advice is to follow it from the start of Postdoc as it takes time to acquire above mentioned qualifications, which not only gives you confidence but also makes your CV attractive.

  1. Can you briefly describe your plans about the size and mentorship style of your laboratory?

The size of my laboratory is dependent on number of grants I would acquire. To begin with I would like to have couple of PhD students and a laboratory technician to kick start some projects that are promising. However, when I receive successful project grants, I would like to have one/two post doctoral fellows depending on the grant money. Interested postdocs with fellowship can also join my lab. The advantage of having postdocs is that they will not need basic training and can get going with the projects. Since my projects require significant bioinoformatics, I would need a person as a JRF/PhD/Postdoc with some kind of training in programming and statistical analysis. With this size group I plan to get going for a couple of years before I take any more student.

  1. Do you have teaching responsibilities?

Teaching responsibilities are bare minimum and therefore I can spend almost 100% of my time in research.

  1. Were there any specific resources such as the Office of Postdoctoral Education that you utilized to help you transition into an independent position?

No, there were no office of postdoctoral education in Karolinska Institutet to groom me for an independent position. However, as I mentioned before, Karolinska Institutet organizes general courses about leadership and mentoring that partially helped me for the future.

  1. Do you have any advice for postdocs about grant writing and successfully obtaining funding?

I have few points to mention:

  • The goals of the projects should be clear and focussed. Vagueness is a definite let down.
  • If there are several goals, they should not be totally dependent on each other. This ensures that if one plan fails, there are backup plans to pull through the overall project.
  • Grants should have defined sections like purpose, hypothesis, specific aims, background, project design, preliminary results and significance of research. Hypothesis should be backed up by previous literature and /or preliminary results. This lends credibility to the proposal. It is also important to discuss caveats of the proposed projects and alternative strategies to circumvent them, if any.
  • The writing should be clear, precise and concise. Succicnt, jargon free write-ups are always appreciated.
  • If possible, do get your grant reviewed by another scientist.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for postdocs making the transition to an independent career?

Be patient and persevering. If applying to India, be prepared for long waits to get any response. Also keep in mind that there is an unsaid age rule of 35 years or less during the time of application in most Indian institutes. While stellar applications may be exempted from this rule, most applications may get weighed down by this factor if competition is high and the institute chooses to exercise this rule. Therefore, prepare your applications in advance to avoid falling in this category. I also recommend attending YIMs in India to increase one’s productive network and get to know inside information of institutes that are hiring at the moment. Heads of granting agencies also attend YIMs and one should also run by their future proposals by them, if possible, to get inputs on how to improve the proposal.

 

  1. What suggestions do you have for CSG to improve the postdoctoral networking experience?

CSG is already doing an excellent job in promoting post doctoral network globally in various disciplines. It is also providing valuable information about available positions in academia and industry, grant writing, mentoring, alternate careers, etc. Currently I do not have any more suggestions for CSG other than to keep up the good work. Thank you and wish you the very best!!

 

 

 

Self2015

Punit Prasad was interveiwed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for Science PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

Transitioning from Academia to Industry in Europe: Face à Face with Alokta Chakrabarti

in Face à Face by

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We have had the opportunity to hear career transition stories from many PhDs in US. It was high time that PhD CSG caught up with our folks from Europe. CSG has been blessed to have seen a surge in the participation from our European friends. I got an opportunity to interact with Dr Alokta Chakrabarti and learn about her transition from academia to industry. After a PhD from Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (Netherlands) and postdoc from University of Freiburg (Germany), Alokta was selected from amongst 170 odd candidates for her current position as a Group Leader in Cellular Drug Discovery at ProQinase. As a first in this series of dialogues, ClubSciWri presents a Face to Face interview with Alokta. 

Abhinav: Can you briefly describe your role as group leader at ProQinase?

Alokta: I’m mainly responsible for execution of customer projects, which include design of experiments, compound management and line-management duties for laboratory technicians.

Abhinav: What made you decide to move into industry rather than stay on the academic track?

Alokta: I took the decision to move to industry very early in my career as I wanted to have a hands-on experience in oncology drug development in a preclinical/clinical setting. After my Masters, I already worked as a Research Biologist in a CRO company in Kolkata, India. While working there I realized that I’m a very curious personality and hungry for more detailed ‘knowledge’ behind drug development. Then, I decided to move back to academia for PhD/Postdoc.

Abhinav: How did you prepare for your current position?

Alokta: I did not have any specific strategy. I already had a CRO experience from India. I guess my knowledge of European work culture both from the Netherlands and Germany was an advantage.

Abhinav: Do you have any advice for postdocs considering careers in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry? What can they do to make themselves competitive?

Alokta: I cannot give a general advice. It highly depends on the country one wishes to apply. I would suggest to get deep into the requirements in the industry depending on the target country and prepare your application accordingly. I hear that networking is a golden standard for getting a job in industry, however, for my position I applied just through the normal procedure.

Abhinav: How did your post-doc experience at prepare you for your position today?

Alokta: I would say that my experience from post-MSc to Postdoc was valuable for my current position. I have acquired experience in different techniques as I have completely swapped topics during each move. This has helped me to come out of my comfort zone, forced me to rethink and has opened my mind to various areas.

Abhinav: Did you use any of the resources at University of Freiburg, such as the Office of Postdoctoral Education, the Postdoctoral Association or others?

Alokta: No.

Abhinav: How has been your experience with CSG and what direction would you like CSG to take in order to make career development beyond academia less stressful for postdocs?

Alokta: I think CSG is a very strong platform to promote industry transition, especially with the current mentor-mentee program. There is always a constant help from the seniors, e.g. CV checks. However, I think it is much stronger for the USA and not many experienced people to guide for Europe. Suggestions: Podcasts could be arranged with CSG senior members who are already successful and have made a transition. Perhaps, people can invite friends/alumni who are recruiters. Important: more the presence of industry personnel, more is the chance to network and get recommendations for positions.

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To know more, connect with Alokta on LinkedIn : https://de.linkedin.com/in/alokta

 

Alokta Chakrabarti was interveiwed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for Science PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

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