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Transition from Bench to Investor relations and Patient engagement-Face to Face with Dr. Michelle Avery

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Nida Siddiqui (NS), interviews Dr. Michelle Avery (MA), who tells us about her love for science communication, and how she used skills learnt during her PhD, to transition from bench research to being the ‘Director of Investor Relations and Patient Engagement’ at Summit Therapeutics.

NS: Could you tell us about yourself?

MA: I loved science since an early age, and even volunteered at a local science museum when I was old enough, but I could never have imagined where it would take me. I earned my undergraduate degree in neuroscience and dance from Skidmore College. While I was there, I had a professor who told me that in order to have a career involving neuroscience, you had to have a PhD. And so, off I went to get my PhD, which I obtained from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I studied axon degeneration in Drosophila. I knew that I wanted to branch out from academia and so opted to not do a postdoc. After graduation, I joined a life sciences communication agency, called MacDougall Biomedical Communications. I’m now the Director of Investor Relations and Patient Engagement at Summit Therapeutics, a small biotech company developing drugs in Duchenne muscular dystrophy and C. difficile infection. I also compete nationally in ballroom dancing in my spare time.

NS: What were some of the exciting projects that you did during your PhD/Postdoc?

 MA: I was a very fortunate grad student – the vast majority of my experiments went very well and resulted in several publications, two first authored papers and two others. My work centred on understanding axon degeneration. For the most part, I worked on a fusion protein that was originally discovered in mice about 20 years before I got to UMass, but its mechanism was still a mystery. We found that a protein, called Wlds, can stop axons from degenerating during injury and in some models of disease, a process that was previously thought to be passive one. I used Drosophila genetics to unravel how Wlds functions, and demonstrated that it acts through mitochondria. I also participated in a forward genetic screen, where we created thousands of mutant Drosophilas to find ones in which their axons didn’t degenerate; further proving that axon degeneration is an active process like apoptosis. We found several mutants that many others in the lab followed up on (and are continuing to follow up on).

 NS: Did you have a dilemma after your PhD, to choose from a postdoc/industry position?

 MA: My heart was not in research – I loved every aspect of it, except for doing it. I knew it wouldn’t be fair to myself or whichever research team I go to if I continued onto a postdoc. I was lucky enough to have a PI who was very supportive of me and my decision to go into industry, although some of my thesis committee members tried to pressure me into doing a postdoc.

 NS: When did you decide it was time to move on and transition to industry?

 MA: I decided a couple of years into my PhD that I wasn’t likely to continue on in academia. I’m a big believer that one should always love what they’re doing and make a change if they don’t. I did chat with several of my friends about whether to drop out of the PhD program or to finish my degree and most of them responded with “you’ve come this far, you’d probably regret it if you don’t finish.” I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but am happy to leave the bench behind.

NS: What are the skills that helped you crack your current position?

MA: Four main skills are crucial for my job:

  1. Learning – People often take for granted the main skill that we are taught in any PhD program. How to learn and then apply that learning. This ability has allowed me to learn the business of science, read and decipher scientific papers for the masses and be able to effectively research any challenge and come up with solutions.
  2. Problem-solving – They don’t call it research because you do it just once. Science has taught me how to expect the unexpected and find a way around it. Every company has unique challenges and figuring out the best way to address them is key to good communication.
  3. Communicating – In my career, it’s very important for me to be able to tell a compelling story to a wide variety of audiences – from young patients to other PhDs who have now turned into investors. The overall message stays the same, but the details change, based on the level of knowledge each group has. Having the opportunity to present to different groups during grad school has helped immensely in this regard. In addition, my PI was great at preparing us for presentations – any time we presented in a conference or other event, we practiced in front of the entire lab and received detailed feedback on every slide, from the words we used to describe to the content of the slide.
  4. Confidence in questioning authority – We all know that science would not advance if researchers weren’t bold enough to question the reigning dogma. We’re taught to prove the null hypothesis and question every aspect of ours and others’ data. This is a very useful skill when it comes to shaping a communications strategy, crafting the message that conveys your story and preparing your team well for a question and answer session with different audiences. It ultimately gives more credibility to the company, which is a company’s greatest asset in biotech.

NS: Could you describe your role as the Director of investor relations and patient engagement?

MA: In smaller biotech companies, investor relations and corporate communications are one and the same. The life of a biotech company depends on its ability to raise money and fund research. For that, you need a compelling story, honest and frequent communication and a good relationship with Wall Street. These three tasks fall under my purview.

A compelling story should start with a simple message that permeates through all communications of the company. Therefore, I’m responsible for all external written and oral communications – the vast majority of which I take the first draft on, whereas some others (mainly scientific presentations/posters) I simply review to make sure they support our story. The communications I draft include, website text, press releases, presentations, conference call scripts, Q&A documents and financial filings (as a public company, we have to file certain forms with the Securities and Exchange Commission).

On the honest and frequent communications front, I typically map out a year or two worth of upcoming events (e.g. conferences, corporate and scientific announcements), identify gaps in the frequency of communication and come up with clever ways to fill those gaps, such as targeting a scientific publication for that time far enough in advance.

In regards to maintaining a good relationship with Wall Street, there are three categories of Wall Street folks that I interact with: bankers: that help us to raise money; buysiders: the investors that buy our stock; and sellsiders: who write reports on our company recommending whether to buy, hold or sell our stock.

NS: Could you elaborate on investor relations strategy?

MA: An investor relations strategy includes interactions with the bankers, buysiders and sellsiders; a plan for continuing the relationships, and also building them. Thus, I spend a lot of time traveling with my Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Each bank typically holds conference during the year, where we present and get to meet one-on-one with buyside investors. Usually, we take a day or two on either side of these conferences to meet the sellsiders or other investors who weren’t at the conference. We also conduct what are called non-deal roadshows, meaning we’re not looking to raise money, but rather are out meeting with buyside investors at their offices. We try and conduct a non-deal roadshow every three months at different locations both in the US and Europe. For sellsiders, we frequently call and meet ones that write about us to make sure they’re as up to date as possible. We also seek out and educate sellsiders that write about other companies in our space. It’s important for them to know as much as they can about a disease space, so we make sure they have an accurate picture of our company which may increase our chances of getting mentioned in research they cover about other companies. In some cases, you can even persuade a sellsider to start writing reports about your company. Another incredibly important aspect of my job is to make sure that we all stay out of jail. All joking aside, there are certain obligations that a public company has in terms about what and when it discloses certain information. I tend to say I’m the nosiest person at the company because of this task – I need to understand what’s going on with every group within the company to know whether or not we need to make a disclosure and when we need to do so. It’s also great to have a head’s up when something like data might be coming, so I can plan the scenario and ensure we have all the right messages and materials ready when it’s time to get the disclosure out. There are many other aspects to investor relations, but these are the main components.

NS: Could you describe the concept of patient engagement?

MA: Patient engagement is relatively new in biotech companies. More and more, biotech companies are realizing that patients are very important for the development of their drugs. In order for a drug to get to the market, you need patient enrolment in clinical trials, and therefore, they need to be designed with patients in mind. So, this role is a two-way street – where we need to educate the patients and in return we need to be educated by them. On the educational front, I spend time traveling to patient organization meetings, to present our approach towards treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy and our clinical trials. These meetings are a great way for us to be educated about the patient population – the questions they ask and discussions they have could be very informative. We also set up periodic webinars, send around newsletters, use social media and keep the patient and family website up to date. Another way that patients educate us is through an advisory board, where we get their feedback on clinical trial protocols, what’s most important in their quality of life and what attributes they look for in a potential drug. It’s great to be at a company that cares about its patients and works to involve them in our drug development as best as possible. It’ll be even better if one day I can tell the patients that we have a new treatment option for them.

NS: What would be your advice to PhD students and postdocs looking to transition to the industry?

MA: I would advise students and postdocs to follow their hearts first and foremost – if you want to make a transition, you can do it and be successful no matter what pushback you may or may not receive from various advisors. Make sure that you openly communicate about your desire to transition – it could help open up doors to networking with others who may have made the transition. Look for other ways to network with those who have made a transition – your city may have a biotech organization that holds events, there may be alternative career talks at your institution or LinkedIn can be a good way to find people to connect with. Finally, look for ways to enhance your skillset for whatever career you may be interested in – if it’s communications, see if there’s a blog you can contribute to on a topic of your choice or sign up for presenting whenever you get a chance. Best of luck to you!

About Dr. Michelle Avery:

Michelle Avery, PhD, is Director of Investor Relations and Patient Engagement at Summit Therapeutics. Previously, she held various positions of increasing seniority at MacDougall Biomedical Communications with her last position being Senior Account Executive. She earned her PhD in neuroscience from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and BA in neuroscience and dance from Skidmore College.

 

About Nida Siddiqui:

 

Nida Siddiqui is currently pursuing final year PhD at the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology, University of Warwick, UK. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @siddnida.

Editors: Paurvi Shinde, PhD and Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD

Paurvi Shinde did her PhD, in Immunology from University of Connecticut Health and currently works as a Post Doc, at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle. She’s loves editing and proofreading scientific articles, to convey the message behind it, in a clear and concise form. Follow her on Linkedin.

Sayantan Chakraborty is an IRTA postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore. A geneticist by training, he’s now exploring the realms of transcription factor dynamics in T cells using quantitative microscopy and systems biology tools. His interests extend to being the Editor for NPR Office Hours and Friends of Joe’s Big Idea. As he grows, he’s looking forward to interacting and networking with fellow science communicators and outreach managers across the globe. Additionally, he’s also a Crisis Counselor with the 24/7 Crisis Text Line. Follow him on Twitter @ch_sayantan

Cover image: Pixabay

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

 

Medical Science Liaison 101 with Dr. Martijn Bijker

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From SCIENCE to PHARMA, led by Dr. Martijn Bijker (MB) and his team of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) and Medical Affairs experts is an online training platform for PhD’s and postdocs interested in becoming an MSL. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bijker to learn more about the MSL role and how to make such a career transition. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with him about his life and career.

RR : What is your research background?

MB: I completed my Bachelor’s in Chemistry from the VU University, Amsterdam where I gained a deeper interest in DNA and molecular biology. This was followed by a Master’s degree from the same University majoring in biochemistry/molecular biology and I added two extra majors, one in immunology and one in immuno-oncology. The Master’s program gave me the opportunity to fulfill one of my long-term dreams – to carry out research in the United States. I had a nine months research internship in San Diego at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LIAI). This internship set the direction for my PhD and my long-term interest in T-cells and immuno-oncology. I started my PhD at the Leiden University in 2003 and focused on immuno-oncology and cancer vaccines, two hot topics at the time.

RR: Did you then decide to do a Postdoc?

MB: Yes, it was an obvious choice since I loved (and still love) science and discussing science. I went to do my postdoc in Sydney, Australia; however, I slowly realized that I enjoyed planning and designing experiments more than executing them. I liked predicting the data and making graphs that showed my scientific predictions (my PhD mentor always teased me by asking “Are these real experiments or just your hypothetical thinking?”). Although I was in the midst of a postdoc, I was ignoring my inner voice telling me that I had reached my limit of bench-work.

RR: What led to the career change?

MB: Eventually, I reached my tipping point. When I started my postdoc in Australia, I realized the project I had embarked on seemed far less promising than it was in the beginning. Also, my supervisor and I did not work well together. But I loved science and I thought academia was the only possibility to do science. I felt stuck and had to find a way out, as this was a very depressing time and environment for me. It took me 3 years (and a lot of complaining) to plan my exit strategy.

RR: Why did you choose to become an MSL?

MB: Actually, my wife gave me an MSL job advertisement and said “maybe this is something for you in 1-2 years time”. The job description was very appealing to me -discussing science (with the top scientific and clinical leaders in the field). Then, on a postdoc mentoring day at our institute, our presenter gave us a very wise life lesson. He said: “You should have a really good plan B, because then you can take all the risk with your plan A and reach great heights and have no fear of failing, as you have a really good plan B to fall back on.” On that day, I set my plan A to stay in academia, and my plan B was to become an MSL. However, 2-3 weeks later, I switched my plan B to be the plan A and went ahead with full steam to become an MSL. Exactly 12 months on the day my wife had sent me the MSL job advertisement, I started my first MSL job at Abbott (6 years ago).

RR: What does the MSL job typically entail?

MB: As the name indicates, you are liaising with the top clinicians in your specific disease area and discussing medical and scientific topics. You are seen as the (internal) expert on anything related to your (and your competitors’) drug, the mode of action, the disease, the clinical trials, the side effects of your drugs, patient management etc.

The MSL role has two major focuses: pipeline and inline drugs. Pipeline drugs are drugs that are still in clinical development, and clinical trials are in progress. Inline drugs have been approved by the regulators to be used in humans for only that specific disease indication. They are sold by the pharmaceutical company and prescribed by the doctors.

While a sales representative tries to change the prescribing behavior of a doctor, the job of an MSL is to better understand the current and future treatment algorithm in your disease area and how your (pipeline) drug best fits in it. In the pipeline phase, you need to understand how doctors will position your drug in the future treatment algorithm. You must understand their rationale for making your drug their first, second or third choice, or for prescribing it to either all patients or only a subgroup of patients with the disease. The MSL must also educate the medical doctors and nurses of certain side effects that inhibit the uptake of the drug and how they can be mitigated. Another aspect of your work involves knowing whether your drug requires any specific diagnostic test before it can be prescribed and if so, how can you expedite the process between diagnosis and drug prescription. In the pipeline phase, you explore all these aspects and share your key clinical insights with the internal colleagues at the company to create a successful plan to launch this drug most efficiently and safely to the doctors and the patients.

When the drug is already on the market (inline), your role is to continue to understand where your drug fits in the current treatment algorithm in light of the current and upcoming clinical data from the competitors. As an MSL you might also support the sales team (i.e. with training) and be involved in medical education for doctors.

Overall, as an MSL you are seen as the drug and clinical disease expert and the first point of contact for your internal colleagues and the external clinical experts. In short, it is a very stimulating environment.

RR: What does the career trajectory look like once you start working as an MSL for a company?

MB: After working as an MSL, one can become a senior MSL and perhaps even an MSL manager. To move up the ladder you often have to live in the vicinity of the local head-office. If you don’t, the MSL can be a cul-de-sac position, or more positively put, it is a career for life.

However, if you live close to or can move to the head-office, one can move up the ladder within Medical Affairs and could become a medical manager/medical advisor/(associate) medical director within the Medical Affairs department. In these roles, you will be mostly working within the office with your internal colleagues to develop strategy for the product using the in-field insights obtained by the MSL.

You can also switch to other departments such as commercial/marketing/market access and pricing. It is definitely very flexible and you can move around relatively easily between companies and/or departments.

RR: What were some of the challenges that you faced in your journey to become an MSL?

MB: The biggest challenge, at that time for me, was to find information on the internet about what an MSL is and what they do on a daily basis. The next challenge was, how to become an MSL without having any MSL experience. After figuring these things out, another big challenge was the MSL interview. The interview for an MSL role is not like the 45 minutes postdoctoral interview with your professor and colleagues in an informal setting. You need to do some serious homework for an MSL interview and it will take you days to prepare for it. Having experienced the lack of online information and the urgent need for it by PhDs/postdocs to support their transition into the MSL role, I started my online MSL training company – from SCIENCE to PHARMA – about 3 years ago.

RR: What were your biggest challenges on the job as an MSL?

MB: While on the job, I quickly realized the pharma world was a lot different than academia, and a lot better in my experience. The top things I had to get used to were:

  1. You can’t just walk into someones’ office to discuss something; you book a meeting in their calendar
  2. You work a lot more in cross-functional settings and not so much on your own, and have to therefore keep more people informed along the process
  3. Your focus changes from scientific journals to medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, to just name one. And your discussion partners are not your lab mates, but clinicians and clinical professors – a different kettle of fish
  4. People openly appreciate what you do; that was new and quite a positive experience for me
  5. And of course, the dress code. You can no longer come in your shorts, t-shirt or jeans to work. You are dressed up more formally, like in a typical corporate setting, especially when you go to see the clinicians

People talk about “going to the dark side” when someone moves to the pharmaceutical industry. I will tell you that it is a very bright side, with many kind and very smart people who have (far less hidden agendas and) one common goal in mind – to improve patients’ lives.

RR: What are the key points a postdoc/graduate student should be aware of while planning a transition into MSL?

MB: The big catch-22 is how to apply for this job if you don’t know what it entails. In my experience, candidates fail to tailor their CV for the MSL role because they do not fully comprehend the MSL job. Their CV therefore just looks like they are applying for a postdoc/scientist position and thus they keep getting rejected. Some tips for you CV and your interview:

  1. You are an expert after finishing your PhD, so call yourself an expert in that (disease) area on your CV.
  2. There is no need to indicate your lab work and lab techniques (western blotting, PCR, flow cytometry) as you will never use these techniques in your MSL life ever again. You must instead focus on diseases, patients and your clinical network.
  3. Know exactly what an MSL is and does on a day-to-day basis. This will enable you to prepare a more robust CV with a higher likelihood of making it to the interviews. The market is tougher now with far more applicants. Hence you need a CV that shows tremendous potential, and of course, you need to be well prepared at the interview. For this, you can take advantage of our online MSL training platform – from SCIENCE to PHARMA, webinars, podcasts, handbooks on MSL jobs, and talking to other MSL’s.
  4. This brings me to the next important thing PhDs struggle with. If you have undergone training, taken a course, or you have gained considerable experience in something, you can mention it on your CV. You don’t always need a certificate, diploma or degree to highlight your skills!
  5. Finally, be ready to answer the following three basic questions: What do you know about the MSL role? Why do you want to become an MSL? Why would you be a good MSL? If you can’t answer these, you are not yet ready to apply for jobs, or to talk to a recruiter about an MSL position. Rather, talk to me first.

RR: What do you think is the role of a good mentor/coach in professional growth and career transitions?

MB: First of all, I believe a good mentor will challenge your thinking and you should be open to it and not feel offended. Secondly, I believe having a mentor who is currently outside academia will benefit you in changing your status quo thinking. Thirdly, the mentor (and yourself) should focus on your skills, strengths and the things you love doing and building/finding a job around that, rather than the other way around.

My wife, who was working in the pharma industry made me question my belief that I could talk and discuss science for a living only by staying in academia. In hindsight, I was only pipetting for a living. As an MSL, on the other hand, I read, talk, discuss and present more science than I ever did in academia.

 

About Dr. Martijn Bijker :

 Dr Martijn Bijker, PhD MSc is the founder of “from SCIENCE to PHARMA” – the only global fully online Medical Science Liaison (MSL) training platform; helping Bachelors, Masters, PhDs, MDs, and PharmDs to maximize their chances of becoming an MSL. www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com

 

About the author : 

Radhika Raheja completed her PhD from Cornell University and is currently a Postdoctoral fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her research interests have centered around oncology and neuroimmunology. Among other things, she is striving to effectively communicate scientific discoveries to the community. You can contact her on LinkedIn or Twitter (@radsr11).

 

Editors :

Arunima Singh obtained her PhD in Computational chemistry from the University of Georgia, USA, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at New York University. She enjoys traveling, reading, and the process of mastering a new cuisine. Her motivation to move to New York was to be a part of this rich scientific, cultural, and social hub.

Paurvi Shinde, did her PhD, in Biomedical Sciences (Immuno-logy) from University of Connecticut Health and currently doing a Post Doc, at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle. Apart from science, she’s a trained classical dancer and loves outdoor and hikes.

Cover image: Pixabay

 

So you want to be a Medical Writer: Interview with Dr. Michael Fiedler

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Dr. Michael Fiedler (MF) shares his experience in the field of Medical communications with Imit Kaur (IK). He describes the job and also provides valuable advice on how to best transition from academia to industry.

IK: Please tell about yourself and your background.

MF: I am from Southern California. As a kid I loved animals and decided to study biology at UC San Diego. During my time at UCSD, I worked in an academic lab and learned techniques in Molecular Biology and Immunology. Unfortunately, after sophomore year, my PI lost his funding and had to let me go. That was a pivotal, enlightening moment in my life in that I realized I didn’t want to spend my life in the academic world where I would have to struggle for research money on a regular basis. I still loved science, however, and wanted to reach the pinnacle of academic achievement (i.e., earn a PhD). After completing my BS in Cell Biology, I attended graduate school at Yale University. While at Yale, I really wanted to challenge my mind and take advantage of any opportunity I could because I knew I wasn’t going to be in academia. I am naturally a talkative extrovert and writing was a way to harness that energy. During grad school I had multiple blogs and part time writing/editing jobs and was also on the board of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Towards the end of my PhD I strongly considered law school as a way to leverage my passion and skillsets, but ultimately decided against it because of fears related to work-life balance and student debt. At that point, I was 4 weeks away from my defense and had no idea what I was going to do. So I sat on the computer and wrote 2 words into Career Builder, “Science” and “Writing” as these were the two things I was most proficient in. That is how I came to discover Medical Communications (MC). Shortly thereafter I got my first job at Infusion Medical Communications, where I still am today.

IK: Explain Medical Writing (MW) and Medical communications (MC) in general. The field of scientific communications is expanding and are there distinct roles played by MW or MC in different organizations?

MF: Well there’s a difference in the type of content in MW. I like to explain MW using the analogy of DNA replication. There’s a leading edge, which is when new/private information becomes public (e.g., publication of clinical trial results) and there is lagging edge where published information is metabolized and leveraged for various purposes (e.g., slide decks).

There is also a difference in the type of communications. Proactive communications are the ones you see on TV, billboards, and Journal advertisements and they provide information that is strictly in the prescribing information or “on-label.” This type of communication is highly regulated and mostly done by sales and commercial people. Reactive communication on the other hand is in response to questions from healthcare providers (HCPs) and can be explained using a car dealership analogy. When you buy a car at a dealership you usually talk to the sales people and finance. However, if you have questions or car troubles after you buy the car, you don’t visit the salesmen who sold you the car, you go to the mechanic. In the pharmaceutical world, the mechanics are medical science liaisons (MSLs) that can talk about things outside the prescribing information to address specific questions. For example, if an HCP wants to understand how a drug works or if it is safe to use in an older or younger patient. In response to these types of questions, an MSL can discuss scientific information in a neutral, informative way with the HCP to help them feel more confident in their decisions. In this type of reactive communication, a medical writer will prepare materials that an MSL can use to facilitate the conversation (e.g., data summary slides, mechanism of action illustrations, etc.).

Another example of MC is with advisory boards, which are like committee meetings for pharmaceutical companies. Say a pharmaceutical company is interested in running a clinical trial for an approved drug, but for a new population (e.g., children). They will call upon experts in the therapeutic area who also have experience with pediatric populations. They will bring them to a central location for a meeting (e.g., Dallas, TX) to discuss the implications of using the drug in children (e.g., safety and efficacy) and what kind of patients would need to be included or excluded in a clinical trial. An MC agency will facilitate everything for the meeting to happen and capture the feedback. They will plan the event in terms of location, attendees and contracts, and create the content itself (e.g., agenda, discussion guide, slide development and onsite reporting). Afterwards they generate a report of who said what.

From a structure standpoint an MC agency has 4 parts:

  1. Business development: people going out and getting the business from Pharmaceutical companies.
  2. Account Services: people responsible for managing awarded projects, client interactions, leading calls, and ensuring completion of projects in a timely manner.
  3. Medical and Scientific Services: people like me who generate the actual content.
  4. Editorial and Graphics: they clean everything up and infuse graphics into the content.

IK: Considering MW for a fresh PhD graduate, is it a huge transition from regular academia? What advice can you give?

MF: Short answer yes, it is a huge transition. I liken it to your very first day in the lab.

Long answer, I would say every PhD or science professional has a general concept of science. As a PhD you are familiar with data, present in journal club, you are used to reading and writing, but as a professional MW, you are preparing material for a client. It can be somewhat of a culture shock in MC to leave your technical skills behind and focus exclusively on these “soft skills” like searching pubmed, creating powerpoint slides, and/or summarizing general research trends. As an MC professional, a pharmaceutical company will hand over their data and it’s your responsibility to present it in the most professional and coherent manner possible. Clients will ask you to research the available literature on their competitors and summarize it in a concise and cogent way.

For advice, the hardest and most critical thing when applying is demonstrating a genuine interest in the field. A company is looking for candidates who have a passion for writing. Can you and are you willing to do it on a daily basis? Another piece of advice is to keep working on your writing skills. I spent several years writing a non-science blog. Just writing will sharpen your skills and help you develop your own style. This is critical to your development as a MW. While applying for jobs, PhDs and post docs like to point out the techniques they know or publications they have, but can neglect the skills that are actually transferable. For example, publications often have multiple authors and the person who ties all of the data together in an eloquent manner has more to offer an MC company than the scientists who conducted the actual experiments.

IK: How did you gain your first writing experience? You mentioned blog writing but are there other avenues one should explore to gain experience? Is freelancing a good idea or is it frowned upon?

MF: It all depends on where you are at in the education process. If you are a 3rd or a 4th year grad student, a blog may be a good way to establish your own voice and portfolio (it doesn’t even have to be about science). If you are closer to finishing, you might want to be more focused. One recommendation I give is to write summaries of biomedical research articles. For example, I would pick a random article from the New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet and write a 250-500 word summary explaining the findings and why they are important. You can also post these on platforms like LinkedIn. In MC you are often asked to write on areas outside your expertise. So by metabolizing an article and posting it, you are demonstrating your skill and showing that you are actually interested in the field.

Freelancing is also a good way to sharpen your skills if you can find the right opportunity. I found freelance writing and editing jobs in grad school and while I had no idea I was going to pursue MC back then, the skills I learned were completely transferable.

IK: How do you get noticed with your resume? There are a number of organizations like the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), are these worthy? Also do certifications help obtain a job?

MF: Resumes should be 1-page and maximize use of white space (e.g., use columns); cover letters should be short, sweet and as specific to the job/company as possible.

AMWA is a good resource and I went to a workshop where I mingled with like-minded people. Also, they have good freelance resources, so if you have worked in an MC agency for couple of years and want to breakout on your own, you can make use of their freelance directory. If you don’t have a PhD and/or not a lot of writing experience, certifications from these organizations can be helpful to establish credibility. Publication writers also often pursue a CMPP credential that ensures good publication practice.

IK: Is it okay for a fresh graduate to jump right in or should they gain more experience (e.g., do a post doc)? Also, you started your career a couple of years ago, have expectations changed overtime?

MF: You definitely don’t need to do post doc. If you want a career in MC it is in your best interest to start as early as possible. For example I started at 28 and have seen a lot of growth in my position and salary. Had I done a post doc, I would have delayed my career development and not gained substantive transferable experience in the process.

As for the MC field, it has changed significantly in recent years with more and more professionals entering the space. But that doesn’t mean the market is saturated. The market is actually growing because pharmaceutical companies are being asked to be more transparent and they want to do so in new and clever ways. Compared to when I first entered the work force, new graduates are much more informed about MC and are booted up to make contributions right away.

IK: Following up on this, how about competition in the field?

MF: There is competition and it will help to have a portfolio. You have to show some kind of commitment to writing. I would encourage people to write as much as possible. It just shows your passion and enthusiasm for your future occupation. As a field, a lot of MC agencies have historically relied on experienced writers to work on publications. However, in this era of digital communication, agencies now need to up their game to be competitive and are taking advantage of the army of new PhDs looking for fulfilling careers. These will be the innovators of the MC space and I feel fortunate to be part of the wave.

IK: What are the challenges in the field?

MF: One of the most difficult things is that you are developing content for someone else and thus have no ownership of it. From a publication perspective you have no authorship, you are just a mediator between HCPs and pharmaceutical companies. MC is also a service industry and working with clients is critical, but tricky. Executing someone else’s vision with quality and on time is not easy. Depending on the “deliverables” you work on there can also be some travel involved (e.g., advisory boards) and this tends to increase over time (i.e., you might travel 10% of the time to start, but that can grow to 30% as you take on more projects). Also, you have to learn to be cognitively nimble because you may have to jump from therapeutic area to therapeutic area within the same day.

IK: You are a career counselor; how can someone reach out to you? Why do you this?

MF: LinkedIn is a good resource. You can connect with me on LinkedIn but you need to follow the proper edict. People send connection requests all the time, but I won’t respond unless you include a message articulating why you are sending me a request. If you just send a connection request, I don’t know who you are and I can’t even respond to find out.

I like helping people for 2 reasons: 1) there is a huge population of PhD professionals trying to grab an opportunity, just like I was, and it is rewarding to help anyway I can; 2) self-interest, plain and simple. By exporting good will, if/when I ever need help in the future I can approach my contacts and hope someone returns the favor. People are usually willing to scratch your back if you have already scratched theirs.

IK: what is the growth potential in the field?

MF: It depends on the agency and work you do. I started 6 years ago and I have been promoted 4 times. There’s also a huge difference between publication work and non-publication work. Publications are commoditized (i.e., a primary manuscript is charged a flat fee) whereas non-publication work (e.g., advisory boards, slide development) is charged hourly. Because projects always take unanticipated twists and turns, non-publications tend to be more profitable and that is where I have spent my entire career.

IK: Before or during the interview process, should you try to get in touch with a recruiter?

MF: Yes if possible because you have nothing to lose. Finder’s fees are paid by the agency, so a recruiter can only help you. To do this, try and apply to as many positions as you can, which are often gated by recruiters. This will help you get on their radar and then you can pursue a relationship, should one manifest. Once you get into the field, recruiters will try and get you to change jobs because they get a commission. That is trickier to navigate and up to you based on your circumstances.

IK: Once you have the job, what do you need to do to stay in the field and keep loving your job?

MF: Maintain professionalism, focus on quality, and care about your team. If you help them do their job, they will help you do yours.

IK: Thank you so much for your time. I am sure our readers and prospective medical writers will benefit from this interview.

MF: I am happy to speak with you and I hope this is of some value.

About Dr. Michael Fiedler

Michael is the Scientific Director of Ashfield Healthcare for over 5 years and
is a dynamic and well respected presence within the company.

About Imit Kaur:

Imit Kaur, Ph.D. is a freelance scientific advisor, medical writer, editor, and an active science blogger. She pursued her PhD in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah. She is experienced in the field of oncology, hematology, pharmacology, nanotechnology and drug development. Follow Imit on LinkedIn (Imit Kaur) or Twitter (@imit_kaur)

Featured image by Vinita Bharat

Editors:
 
The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

 

Story of Science: Dr. Ramray Bhat

in Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

Ian Leslie said, “Curiosity is unruly. It doesn’t like rules, or, at least, it assumes that all rules are provisional, subject to the laceration of a smart question nobody has yet thought to ask. It disdains the approved pathways, preferring diversions, unplanned excursions, impulsive left turns. In short, curiosity is deviant.” And Ramray’s journey exemplifies the curiosity led transitions in his subjects of research interests at all phases of his career. He claims that he gets bored easily and cannot continue on the same thing for a long time.

As a nerd growing up in Calcutta, his inquisitiveness drove him to look up encyclopedias and science books. Being the text book ‘good’ student with good grades made him choose the option, biology and medicine.

I was inquisitive about things around us.’

Being questioning, he was more interested in interactions of physical world with the biological world. He remembers being intrigued by the shape of fishes towards the end of high school. He found it interesting that shape of most fishes is like a spindle in all cross sections. He wondered if hydrodynamic environment affects shaping of fishes. He bugged several physics students and found it annoying that the answers were not revealed in the many textbooks and encyclopedias he owned. He realized that there are a lot of biology-related questions that are still unanswered and that was the bait for him to lean towards basic research. He wanted to seek answers, a pursuit that continues to this day.

The fish is spindle shaped along all axes.

‘Does water movement shape the fish body?’ Ramray wondered.

However, he studied in a medical college, and he realized that most curriculum in India tend to dumb down curiosity.  He was driven into self education – reading biology, physics and mathematics books outside the strict curriculum. He believes that this reading developed an unorthodox and unconventional curriculum for himself that allowed him to ask different questions. He viewed his training in medicine as an alternate route to ultimately being a researcher. He claims that his training in physiological and pathological aspects on human biology were useful in gaining perspective on some of his research later.

I would read (science books) whatever I could get my hands on.’

He visited labs in Calcutta and Bangalore during his vacations and worked there. His interactions with scientists like Vidyanand Nanjundiah and Amitabh Joshi deepened his inclination towards basic sciences research.

After finishing his training in medicine, he started his doctoral studies at SA Newman’s lab in upstate New York. He worked on pattern formation in limb development. He elucidated novel information on the effect of physical forces on pattern formation and on how molecules come together to form a network leading to the same. These answers are reminiscent of his interest in shapes of fish. His love for pattern exists in physical and biological worlds. He also has a keen interest in architecture and pattern occurrence in man made structures as well.

He sought newer science for his postdoctoral studies. He worked with Dr. Mina J. Bissell on breast morphogenesis. There he dissected the importance of glycol saccharides in mammary tree branching. This time his research on morphogenesis had a relation with human pathogenesis. After four and half years, he sought a change and got recruited at the MRDG, IISc. There, he is now working on understanding the differences between metastatic routes of two different cancers, breast and ovarian.

Transitions allowed me to keep my love for science fresh, as well as, vigorous as it always was.’

While this is his first step as an independent principal investigator, it may not be the full stop for his transitions. We are on the lookout for all the things he will do with his love for curiosity and science.


About the author and illustrator:

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

 

 

 

Editor: Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

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

Transitioning from Bench to Pharma – Face to face with Dr. Sourav Sarkar, Senior Scientist, AstraZeneca, UK

in Face à Face by

Dr. Sourav Sarkar (SS) shares his academic journey with Nida Siddiqui (NS) and describes the factors that led to his transition into the industry. He also provides some invaluable pointers for future “transitioners”.

NS: Could you tell us about yourself?

 SS: I am an experienced research scientist with broad knowledge and understanding in cell biology and biochemistry. I did my masters in Biochemistry from Calcutta University, India followed by PhD in Genetics and cell biology from Bose Institute, Kolkata, India. After completion of PhD, I joined University of Warwick, UK to pursue postdoctoral research in understanding molecular mechanism of chromosome segregation in normal and cancerous cells. Currently I am working in AstraZeneca, Cambridge, UK as a senior scientist where my role is to screen different classes of compounds to find candidates that are effective, as well as selective against targets in different cancer types, and to gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of action of specific compounds against a target.

 NS: What were some of the exciting projects that you worked on during your PhD/Postdoc?

SS: I have mainly worked on understanding the molecular mechanism of chromosome segregation during mitosis and meiosis, and how genetic alterations affect this process in cancer cells.

I have been involved in several projects during my research career and most of them have been very interesting, but if I must choose then I would say that the following projects have been particularly exciting.

  1. a) To understand the role of fusion gene(s) in chromosome segregation, and its contribution towards development of aneuploidy, and consequently cancer. There is considerable evidence that suggests potential links between fusion gene(s) and cancer, so it is very important to understand the molecular basis of this association.
  2. b) To understand how cells respond to nutritional status in the environment, and trigger entry into quiescence/gametogenesis program for their survival.

NS: Did you have any dilemma after your PhD, to choose between a postdoc/industry position?

SS: After completion of PhD, I decided to continue my research work in an academic setting. Frankly speaking, I never had any thoughts of moving to the industry after my PhD.

NS: When did you decide it was time to move on and transition to the industry?

SS: To consider moving to the industry was not an easy decision for me. However, successful scientific research is not a product of ideas alone. Other factors, such as research funding play a crucial role, and I have personally experienced research getting affected due to the lack of funds. It was during my postdoc that I realised that staying in academia was not going to be an easy task. There is constant pressure of publishing articles, getting grants etc. and this to some extent I believe led to a situation where “publish or perish” became a harsh reality.  Considering all these factors, I thought it would be a good time for me (after my second postdoc) to move to the industry, where I could still be involved in science, and address relevant scientific questions. Moreover, I felt that joining a pharmaceutical industry would give me the perfect opportunity to work more closely with experts from different fields towards a common goal of developing new medicines and improving human health. 

NS: What are the skills that helped you crack your current position?

SS: My research experience during PhD and postdoc gave me the invaluable opportunity to learn various technical skills ranging from cell and molecular biology to protein biochemistry. In addition to my technical skills, I also got the chance to develop my inter-personal skills over this period. Interacting with researchers from various fields of expertise has helped shape my research career. The set of skills I acquired from these communications turned out to be highly valuable towards obtaining my current position in this company.

 NS: How has PhD Career Support Group (PhDCSG) played a role during your transition period?

SS: PhDCSG is a great initiative and I must thank all the people who are behind this. CSG has helped me better prepare myself during the transition stage. The vast variety of posts by people from different areas, starting from CV writing to preparing for a job interview etc. are very useful. One learns a lot from CSG as people share their personal experiences on topics relevant to early-career scientists, which to me is extremely valuable.

 NS: What would you advise PhD students and postdocs, looking to transition to the industry?

SS: I would suggest few points to work on before making the move.

  1. First ask yourself whether you are prepared for the move.
  2. Be honest, be prepared to take risks, and believe in yourself.
  3. Continue to learn and develop skills in your area of specialization, but also keep your mind open to picking up new skills in other areas, as and when an opportunity presents.
  4. Understand your subject very well and develop the quality to address pertinent questions.
  5. Both, technical and inter-personal skills are key during transition.
  6. Don’t hesitate to interact with people, reaching out to them, and making yourself visible in the job sector.
  7. Attend conferences, meetings, networking events etc. where you would get an opportunity to meet people from different industries.
  8. If possible, attend courses on career development.

And most importantly, remember, employers won’t come and knock on your door; you will have to create opportunities for yourself.

 

About Dr. Sourav Sarkar

Dr. Sourav Sarkar is a senior scientist at AstraZeneca, Cambridge, UK. He completed his PhD from Bose Institute, Calcutta, India followed by two postdoctoral stints at the University of Warwick, UK.

 

About Nida Siddiqui

Nida Siddiqui is currently pursuing final year PhD at the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology, University of Warwick, UK. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @siddnida

Editor: Arunima Singh

About: Arunima obtained her PhD in Computational chemistry from the University of Georgia, USA, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at New York University. She enjoys traveling, reading, and the process of mastering a new cuisine. Her motivation to move to New York was to be a part of this rich scientific, cultural, and social hub.

 Cover image: Pixabay

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

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

Geospatial Technology – bridging space machinery and geography

in Face à Face by

Geospatial technology encompasses a broad range of tools including remote sensing imagery, GIS software for data analysis and map making, GPS satellites for precise location and positioning, and Internet mapping applications such as Google Earth. An internet search can overwhelm us with information, yet a conversation with an expert yields the best knowledge. Prof. Arup Dasgupta, Managing Editor at Geospatial Media and Communications, is an eminent scientist in the field of Geospatial Technology. Earlier, he has also served as the Deputy Director, SATCOM and IT Applications Area, Space Applications Centre – ISRO, Ahmedabad. My discussion with Prof. Dasgupta (AD) encompassed not only his career, but also the broader impact of Geospatial Technology in our everyday lives.

AS: How has your professional journey panned out so far?

AD: I was born in Calcutta, began my schooling in Allahabad and continued that in Calcutta. In the later years, having completed my school education in Delhi, I graduated in Physics from Delhi University. My dream profession being engineering, I joined the BE program at the Indian Institute of Science where I further went on to complete my ME in Electrical Communications Engineering.

My one and only job was with the Space Applications Centre of Indian Space Research Organization at Ahmedabad which I joined in 1970 and superannuated from in 2005. I’m now settled in Ahmedabad. I began as a television engineer designing a rugged TV set for the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) and moved on to managing the rural TV network under SITE. My rural experience resulted in my traversing on to the area of Remote Sensing where I worked on promoting remote sensing applications. Later, I progressed on to Image Processing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) before retiring as an engineer in charge of satellite communications and information technology applications.

Although my work sometimes did take up a lot of my time, I never compromised upon relaxing myself every now and then. My hobbies are reading, listening to music and of late, creating working models using a 125-year-old construction set called Meccano.

AS: What is your current role in Geospatial Media and Communications?

AD: I joined Geospatial Media and Communications post-superannuation from ISRO. Currently I am the Managing Editor with the Media & Public Relations Department. I oversee print publication, conduct interviews with key people in governments and industries worldwide, speak at conferences organized by GMC, represent GMC at other conferences and meetings, and write articles and blogs on emerging topics.

AS: What is Geospatial Media and Communications?

AD: GMC is a media house that aims to inform all professional communities and in particular those communities working on earth relates subjects on the advances in geospatial technologies and applications. It provides geospatial industries a platform to showcase their products and services, network with academia, government and other industries to understand upcoming requirements and issues for improving their offerings. A major component is also policy advocacy which helps governments understand the difficulties faced by industry and user communities due to over-regulation of activities, like the controversial Geospatial Activities Regulation Bill. The company also provides academia a platform to understand industry, government and user requirements to enable them tailor their courses to emerging technologies and processes.

AS: How should a layman perceive geospatial technology and its importance?

AD: Let me quote a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Elephant’s Child’.

I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.

Any description of an event or a situation has to include answers to these six questions. We live in a three-dimensional world in which a place is defined by three dimensions of a coordinate system. Therefore, the ‘where’ is an important member of the sextet of questions. For example:

Location: Where is …?

Inventory: Where are …?

Routing: What is the best way to go from … to …?

Analysis: What spatial pattern exists?

Modelling: What if …? When will…?

Trend: What has changed? How? Why? Who?

Humankind realized the importance of where which gave rise to science, some call it art, of cartography whose underpinning is the technology of surveying. Today, surveying technology has adopted and adapted the best of other technologies like laser ranging for distance measurement, remote sensing imagery for terrain mapping, Global Navigation Satellite Systems for surveying, routing and position location, computers for GIS, Internet for map publishing, Cloud, Big Data Analytics, Deep Learning, Blockchain and so on. The Internet of Things is heavily dependent on Geospatial information.

A typical example is routing. What happens when you call up Uber or Ola for a taxi ride? The app locates your location via the GPS built into your smartphone. Once you select your destination you can see the route traced out on a map – application of GIS. Once you are in the taxi, the routing directions are audible on the driver’s phone. It uses the current traffic information to avoid congestions en route. How do such apps obtain real-time congestion information? Google collects data on the number of cellphones in a particular route. More stationary phones on the road means congestion – an application of Deep Learning.

Another example is crop insurance. Remote Sensing helps to identify cropped areas and crops under stress. It is also used to determine losses due to episodic events like floods. Based on this the insurer can decide on the risk and fix the premium.

AS: How has your geomatics experience been in ISRO?

AD: My field experience in managing the SITE rural TV network convinced my then Director, Prof. Yash Pal, to offer me a position in the Remote Sensing area. My first position was to organize a utilization program for remote sensing. At that time, the major work was from aerial photography. The scientists were mapping and laboriously measuring the area under different categories in the map using a dot grid. A meeting with the Collector of Panch Mahals district shed light on his interest pertaining to different types of land cover rather than how much. This initial experience helped me to organize applications around mapping using the US Landsat and later Indian satellites like Bhaskara and IRS. I realized that maps made using remotely sensed imagery were only the beginning of a bigger analytical process which could yield actionable information.

Another aspect of my work was the development of data products for the IRS satellites as well as for airborne synthetic aperture radar and SAR from the ESA ERS satellites. Starting with the VAX, we moved to minis and clusters in a client-server architecture. The SAR processors were extremely data intensive and required faster computers which were denied to us under the MTCR regime after Pokhran -1 and Pokhran-2. We teamed up with CDAC and used a transputer based parallel processing machines to attack the problem – reducing processing time from 12 hours on VAX to 40 minutes on a 16 node PARAM from CDAC. We also developed digital
photogrammetry software for stereo data from Cartosat series of satellites.

My interest in natural resource information systems dates back to my earliest years in remote sensing. In 1978, I delivered two lectures at a UN/FAO Training Seminar on “Information Systems for Resources Management” and “Reports for Resource Managers”. My view is that remote sensing by itself cannot realize its full potential unless combined with other data in a structured, preferably computerized format. I was introduced to GIS through publications of the Harvard Laboratory of Computer Graphics. Getting one’s hand on a GIS package was made possible by a fortuitous offer from Colorado University under a conference being organized by the university with SAC at Ahmedabad, for a package called P-MAP which could run on our VAX11/780 and print out maps on a line printer. After cutting one’s teeth on this rather cumbersome software, and an extensive literature search and evaluation of available GIS packages resulted in the procurement of Arc/Info for ISRO. In parallel, we launched the development of an indigenous GIS package, ISROGIS, which was released in September 1991.

For using GIS to establish the Natural Resources Information Systems, we first proposed a National Natural Resources Information System, NRIS, in 1983 at a national seminar on the foundation of the National Natural Resources Management System, NNRMS, in India. After this, I was involved in pre-investment activities of the NRIS and was designated as Deputy Director Information Systems, NNRMS. I drew up an NRIS Program Plan and after consideration by an expert committee set up by the Department of Space, it has been taken up for implementation. I was the Project Director for that program. Initially, we worked on an interim plan to set up 30 demonstration databases all over the country in 17 states.  Subsequently, we expanded this to cover 17 full states in a phased manner.

My work on spatial information systems led me to standards and interoperability issues. I participated in the discussions on setting up a National Spatial Data Infrastructure. I became familiar with issues relating to change management and realized the importance of people, processes and environment in the adoption of new technologies. I might have learned a lot and contributed technically, but could not succeed in making institutions accept geomatics as an essential element of their professional life. That made me realize the importance of integrating geomatics with other systems like ICT.

AS: Would you like to share your journey as a teacher? Any advice for current aspirants?

AD: I never desired to be a teacher. However, my friends from the teaching fraternity seemed to have other ideas. Maybe my association with IEEE and occasional lectures to Student Chapters paved the way for me, hence I was offered several teaching opportunities post-retirement from ISRO. The subjects I taught were Remote Sensing, GIS and Project Management. I realized that there is a need to bring students up to speed on new technologies. Therefore, I introduced new topics like Harvesting Social Media as a Geospatial Data Source, and Lidar Technology and Applications.

Since I didn’t plan to become a teacher, I feel that I am not qualified to offer advice to aspiring teachers. My limited experience showed me that students need to be challenged to think. Interactivity in a class livens things up.

AS: How should one prepare himself to face the current fluctuating job scenario?

AD: In Science and Technology, you must run very fast just to remain in one place. Therefore, your active life must be one of constant learning. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to make drastic changes. Above all, follow your heart. I began my career as a television engineer, moved to systems management, then to image and signal processing, and information systems. I explored the potential of the internet and synthesized IT with communication. Now, I am learning all about Blockchain technology and how it can be applied to geospatial systems.

 

 

About Prof. Arup Dasgupta:

Prof. Dasgupta is the Managing Editor at Geospatial Media and Communications (formerly Deputy Director, SATCOM and IT Applications Area, Space Applications Centre – ISRO, Ahmedabad). In this picture, Prof. Dasgupta can be seen creating a working model of an automative with his Meccano set.

 

About Abirami:

Abirami is a research fellow with a focus on cell and molecular biology research and research administration. She is interested in photography and freelancing.

 

 

Editor: Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD 


The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

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

 

Continuus Pharmaceuticals: Changing the rules of drug manufacturing

in Entrepreneurship/Face à Face by

Editor’s note: The innovative research and technologies bid adios to many diseases that posed a threat to us. However, with the boost in the population, one major challenge that the pharmaceutical industry confronts is to keep the balance between demand and supply. In the global market, it is no longer just about getting the right cure; it is about searching the fastest, economic, eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives. This face-to-face interview with Bayan Takizawa will throw light on ‘continuous flow model’ of manufacturing which permits the bio-pharma companies significant lead time in the drug production. Additionally, he discussed with Subhalaxmi Nambi how his company Continuus Pharmaceuticals is currently the best solution to bridge the gap between supply and demand.- Rituparna Chakrabarti

An efficient manufacturing process in any industry is the crux of the economic success and market sustainability. This article focused on one such success story. Traditionally, pharma industries focus has been on ‘batch manufacturing’, with multiple disconnected steps. Further, a large plant footprint, magnified the risk of human errors and contaminations, running the system into time crunches. Annually, it is estimated that on average the pharmaceutical industries suffer a loss of $50 billion during the manufacturing process alone. In contrast, other manufacturing sectors, such as the electronics industries implement ‘continuous flow model’ where raw materials are funneled through uninterrupted steps, delivering the final product/services. The Novartis-MIT Center were among the first ones to embrace this model successfully in 2007. Their prototype system circumvented the major roadblocks associated with the stages of manufacturing. Now, it is not any more a far-fetched dream, that a tablet can be produced from the raw materials, just within two days.

A few weeks ago, Subhalaxmi (Subbu) had the opportunity to interact with Bayan Takizawa, a co-founder and chief business officer at Continuus Pharmaceuticals, Woburn, MA; a spin-off company from the Novartis-MIT Center established in 2012, for Continuous Manufacturing.

During the course of the interview, Takizawa highlighted that Continuus is relentlessly moving forward with their cost/time efficient plans. They aim at better plant footprints and drug quality through implementation of plant-wide Quality by Design. Continuus’ modular manufacturing designs further allowed modification and adaptation of an existing process for a new drug.

Bayan Takizawa exclaimed that “The continuous flow technology is a game-changer! However, we have to acknowledge several challenges towards its broader implementation within the pharma industry.” No doubt that establishing this process is profitable but involves initial capital investments. Moreover, many companies are not enthusiastic about overhauling their established production processes, a phenomenon often termed as industry inertia. However, the situation is changing as there are some early adopters. Continuus has worked with several companies ranging from innovative pharmaceutical to generic companies, leveraging its novel continuous manufacturing technologies. Additionally, they are currently working with government agencies, including the NSF (through their SBIR programs) and the FDA.

In the future, the incorporation of Continuus’ flow technology will enable companies to reduce their cost structures. The modular and flexible nature of the process design makes this technology ideal for personalised medicine applications. Dr. Takizawa is also interested in exploring how this technology platform can be exploited for the development and production of biologic medicines (e.g. oligonucleotides). He emphasized the importance of the rich Massachusetts’ life science ecosystem and how it has contributed to Continuus’s success, as many of the advisors and employees are from this area. He added companies can benefit greatly from the fruitful collaborations with the thriving Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) located in Waltham and Cambridge, respectively.

Continuus strength is the people with technical and regulatory expertise, who are flexible to work in a small company culture. Bayan explained they are always excited to welcome those future candidates aboard who are adaptable and willing to accept changes. He quipped “We appreciate someone disagreeing but not disagreeable”. When asked for advice for budding entrepreneurs, he laid stress on using one’s network to connect with interested and helpful people. He personally finds attending conferences to be a great connection-building exercise. Additionally, he believes that creating a competent management team is a key factor in building a successful startup.

 

Finally, he offered some advice for the budding entrepreneurs:

  1. Listen to others – we all think we’re pretty smart, but we have not done it all, and we can learn from listening to others
  2. Listen to your client
  3. Be ready to pivot (especially based on 1 and 2) above
  4. Be objective when picking advisors/directors – you don’t want to pick friends or people who you feel comfortable with – you need people who will provide good guidance and advice
  5. Be ready for tough times ahead – creating a business is not easy. It is important to be energetic, persistent, and resilient while being realistic (don’t be delusional!)

 

Continuus Infoshell….

 

 ———————————————————————–
This interview was conducted by Subhalaxmi (Subbu) Nambi (MS, Ph.D.) She is  a business development associate for Innovation and Business Development at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). Her responsibilities involve collecting competitive intelligence and market analysis to determine commercial viability and competitive advantage of technologies invented/discovered in UMMS. She is also involved in understanding the IP of the ongoing projects in UMMS. Prior to this position, Subbu did a post-doc with Prof. Chris Sassetti on developing new approaches to understanding the role of genes of unknown function in mycobacterial pathogenesis and validating their products as potential drug targets. She obtained her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in India. Her graduate research focused on understanding the role of cAMP signaling in mycobacteria.
About the author:
 Anisha Zaveri recently graduated from the Indian Institute of Science and is presently a postdoctoral associate at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York. She works on the human pathogen M. tuberculosis while also dabbling in effective altruism, behavioral economics and data science.

 

 

About the editors:

Rituparna Chakrabarti pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. Over years, she has gained technical expertise in electron and high-resolution light microscopy, in order to study the nanostructures of specialized chemical synapses in the sensory systems. She likes to have a bird’s eye view of her undertakings and gets excited with analytics. Passionately believes in, correct simplification of science, therefore engages in different scientific communication and public outreach projects. To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.

 

 

Uma Turakhiya, Ph.D. About herself Uma says “I currently work as a regulatory medical writer, having previously completed my Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Freiburg, Germany. I enjoy writing about science and believe that simplification of science and communication are the key to creating a scientific temper in the society. Apart from having a voracious appetite for books, I am enthusiastic about learning new languages, meeting new people and occasionally playing the piano.”

Featured image: Pixabay


The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

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

Let’s start with the first stepping stone

in Face à Face/Planet Gurukool by

Editor’s Note: Enrico Fermi said, “There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery”. In her career transition tet-a-tete with Rituparna, Riya Binil reveals how her leap of faith from the ivory tower of academia was a perfectly measured career move and also ensured the discovery of the purpose of her scientific training. As we begin the next season of Gurukool, we hope Riya’s experience will help you realize the power of altruism that propels peer-sourced mentoring in Gurukool. – Abhinav Dey

 

Whether we are freshly minted Ph.Ds. or rich with postdoc experiences, sometimes uncertainty beckons us and we yearn to venture away from the trodden path into a different kind of future. Although our training equips us with the ability to reason out and calculate the trial and error rates, transitioning into broader STEM-Careers may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but all that we need is the first stepping stone towards it.

Dr. Riya Binil reinstalled my (Rituparna Chakrabarti) faith in this and made it much stronger, as we spent a Sunday afternoon Skypeing about her recent job transition experience as Biotech Analyst at SGS Canada Inc. Riya patiently narrated her story highlighting the importance of seeking help and building networks with the right person at the right time. She urges young PhDs to take a leap of faith from the ivory tower.

RC: Congratulation Riya, tell me more about where it all started?

RB: Well I am an applied chemist by training, I got my M.Sc. from Cochin University of Science and Technology, India. I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. but my younger version was equally excited to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. That’s why I moved to Bangalore to do my Ph.D. at National Center for Biological Sciences. Here, I gained most of my laboratory skill sets and grew passionate to work at the intersection of Chemistry and Biology. During that period, I mainly worked with GPI (Glycosylphosphatidylinositol, a glycolipid) and GPI-APs (GPIanchored proteins, glycolipid-tethered proteins). These proteins are ubiquitously expressed in all eukaryotic cells and perform diverse cellular functions. I synthesized fluorescent GPI analogs as well as ligands for the GPI-AP receptor to specifically study the plasma membrane organization of GPI-APs.

By the end of my Ph.D., I started looking for scopes where my skill sets can be implemented on larger scale projects and I made up my mind that I wanted to transcend beyond academia. More or less at the same time, my family relocated to Canada. It’s always quite challenging with these relocations, especially when your family is entangled with you and your decisions. So, I decided to take up a postdoctoral position at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, but in parallel, continued to dig in more about opportunities in the industries and developing my CV towards it. My latest relocation from Ottawa to Greater Toronto area, Ontario thankfully came at the right time where I had my first reality check; ‘In Canada, you might have a Ph.D. but that might not be enough for you to land up with a job.’

RC: So how did you circumvent this obstacle?

RB: This can be quite nerve-wrecking and a long experience for most of us but I guess you find a way about it. I was very sure about this transition for quite a long time. I did not care too much about the pay scale to start with but kept my eyes open for opportunities which matched my skill sets. One thing that I was very clear about was ‘I need to get my very first industrial exposure’, therefore I was flexible to learn and adapt to the system. By this time I came across CSG (Career Support Group) and Ananda Ghosh prompted me to get associated with CSG Gurukool Initiative which helped me immensely to custom design my CV and groomed me for the interview.

RC: What are the objectives of SGS and what are your current roles as a Biotech Analyst?

RB: SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance) is a MNC based in Geneva, Switzerland. They are one of the global leaders carrying out inspections, verifications, testings, and certifications for their client’s services and products. They set a global benchmark by delivering high-quality services in a wide range of sectors (13 of them), starting from ‘agriculture & food’ to ‘oil & energy’. I joined the biopharmaceutical division within the life sciences department. As a Biotech Analyst, my major responsibility includes various bioanalytical analysis to ensure quality control.

RC: What were the skill sets you highlighted for your current job?

RB: I was always interested in research and had a vast skill set to get absorbed in this department. After looking at the job ad, I observed that I full filled most of their requirements. But the trick is you have to tailor the CV and cover letter smartly. I was picky with my skill sets and highlighted only those which were mandatory for this particular position. I highlighted my expertise in cell cultures, cell-based assays, chromatography and gel electrophoresis. In addition to this, I highlighted my strongest soft skills like good communication (both verbal and written), openness to collaborations (within and outside interdisciplinary team of scientists), innovative outlook and flexibility.

RC: What was the biggest lesson you learned during the process of transition?

RB: For me, the biggest virtue I learned was to be persistent and patient throughout the process. It takes the time to understand the job market. It needs a lot of self-effort and diligent networking. CSG and CSG Gurukool provided me the required support, as well as a sound networking platform.

RC: How did CSG Gurukool help you?

RB: Everyone knows the importance of social media and networking, but initially very few of us actually take this process seriously. I took my time to get accustomed to this procedure as well. The CSG inhouse mentor-mentee program is a great platform in order to know people from different walks of life. They hand pick few CSG members every 6 months based on their CV and cover letter and assign them to set of mentors with the similar background. I got in touch with Swayam Prabha and Ravikiran Ravulapalli as my mentors, who understood the Canadian job market specifically. At the start, I was a bit shy to approach the mentors directly. I always wanted to provide them with the well-furnished CV, so I kept editing the CV without knowing the right approach. It won’t be surprising for you to know that it was not the correct way. It is an open portal and both mentors and mentees learn from one another. It is always best to work through the materials and evolve together in the focused direction. They also provided me with useful tips like spreading the keywords well throughout my CV and LinkedIn profile so it is easier to crack the CTS (Computer Tracking Software). Most importantly I learned that one has to be proactive in order to make an impression among the mentors because you might get a referral to a particular industry via your mentor. The best part of this experience is it is a free open access source which anyone can utilize once motivated and enrolled. I pursued it diligently and was successful. I am now looking forward to the new cycle of CSG Gurukool, as it’s my turn to give back to CSG as a resourceful mentor.

RC: Thanks, Riya I am sure this will help many of our readers. Do you have any suggestions for future aspirants?

RB: Study the job market carefully; jot down what you want to do and what your priorities are. Once you have your first draft take help from your friends/peers who made the similar transition or get associated with programs like CSG Gurukool. Start applying well in advance. Generally, it is a long process and earlier you start more confident you will feel about it. Informational interviews are great tools and I highly recommend everyone to exploit this medium.

 


This interview was coordinated and conducted by Rituparna Chakrabarti

Rituparna pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. Over years, she has gained technical expertise in electron and high-resolution light microscopy, in order to study the nanostructures of specialized chemical synapses in the sensory systems. She likes to have a bird’s eye view of her undertakings and gets excited with analytics. Passionately believes in, correct simplification of science, therefore engages in different scientific communication and public outreach projects. To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.

The editor Vignesh Narayan Hariharan

Vignesh is a molecular biologist at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India with a passion for science communication. When he is not peering into bacterial signaling networks or playing with his fluorescence microscope, he tries to simplify science through his writing. He loves talking about science almost as much as he loves writing about it and wishes people would pay for him to just travel the world talking and writing about science….or anything else for that matter.

 


Cover Image source: Pixabay

Profile image courtesy Riya Binil,

Content Image sources: Pixabay

References:


The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

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

 

A Recruitment Manager’s Eye View

in Face à Face by

Editorial Note: We want to make sure that the mid-week pressure and long lab hours are not blurring your visions. ”Look out beyond the horizons of academia”. Are you now wondering how to do that? Where to start from? Or are you just tired of beating around the bush? We hope that this article will provide you with some perspectives.

It encompasses the basic queries and suggestion for those who are looking towards a STEM career transition. Dr. Sudhakar Bangera systematically breaks down the current job market scenario in India, talks about how to bridge the gaps between the expectations of the employer-employee, how to train oneself and discusses the major challenges faced in Indian Bio Industries.

We are sure this article will broaden your myopic vision and help you take a lead in your next venture. – Rituparna Chakrabarti

 

Dr. Sudhakar Bangera is currently the Vice-President (Medical Affairs), Bharat Biotech International Ltd., Hyderabad. He started his career as a medical practitioner and a teacher, later moving on to clinical research. In his 26 years of health care profession, he has successfully led several start-up companies, the US subsidiary of India and governmental organization. His main forte encompasses business and program management of clinical trials of new drugs and medical device. In this Face-to-Face interview with CSG India Team, he talks about the Indian job market for life science professionals and the employer-employee expectation gap. We highly appreciate Dr Sudhakar’s effort and time in helping the young researchers and science students to improve their stand by sharing the views of “people on the other side of the recruiting table”.   His willingness to help young researchers and science students is evident from his dedication in meeting CSG members at MNR Educational Trust office at Hyderabad for half a day on a Sunday in sharing his experience and providing guidance to Scientists from academia and Industry.

Image source: Pixabay

Q1: What is the expectation gap between the students (potential employee) and the industry (employer)?

There are four entry levels: Fresher, junior, mid and senior level. Each of these four levels has different expectations.  I have gone through all these four levels as an interviewee and an interviewer, hence it is easier for me to speak about it.

For a fresher just out of college, the technical skill is not the priority to be judged as there are various streams and not everything related to the job/position requirement subject is taught in the school. At Bharat biotech people with a background in life science like biotechnology, microbiology, molecular biology, medicine, pharmacy and other life science backgrounds are recruited. I have also recruited people with multiple backgrounds in my team. During the interviews, subject related questions (technical questions) are generally avoided, such questions are asked only when the interviewee himself directs them or provokes them to test his/her knowledge.  In most of such instances, the interviewee tries to kill himself with his own axe.  This interview pattern is only for the fresher’s.  For the other cadres, technical questions are asked according to the post.

Each division particularly chooses the candidate with Masters over Bachelor’s or a Ph.D. over masters because of only one reason and that being “age”.  With age comes “maturity” which is a must in any profession. This maturity is attained by the experience we get while dealing with different people. During masters the people we interact the most are the classmates (limited interactions). Whereas, during Ph.D. the interaction is at much broader level because of the diversity of the people we interact.

Ph.D.s/MDs should also realize that they don’t know everything. They will learn more as they work. There are few areas where a medical grad understands medicine and physiology and anatomy better, and a Ph.D. understands a particular peptide/ enzyme better. People need to know their limitations.

Candidates coming from overseas or from big schools have huge expectations from the company in terms of position and salary which most of the time are not met. Many times when the job is accepted by the employee they don’t stand on the agreements made during job offer, they try to diverge away from it. For e.g. ability to travel, work on weekends, completion of assignment even if it needs staying back for more hours. Many times, the more a person is experienced, the more reluctant they are to change. Instead, they try to change the system in the new job place. Another issue with experienced employee coming from MNC culture is that they need to get adapted to the new system, for e.g. business class travel in MNC company versus economy class policy in Indian companies, perks and benefits may be different, the number of workdays in a week.  Occasionally employer is also at fault because they expect deliverables on time but does not facilitate the whole process to run smoothly.

Not only the job seekers have shortcomings but also the industry. From an industry point of view, it is the HR team who act as a front line in the whole process of hiring. Most of the times the HR team fails to convey the proper job description to the interviewee while contacting them. They also don’t send proper emails with all the relevant information about the interview.

Q2: Most of the life science job advertisement/ profiles in India states “M.Sc. with 3 or more year’s experience”. Why is the industry not willing to absorb Ph.D.s for the entry/junior level jobs? Does this unwillingness, to take or join the juniorlevel posts, comes from the industry or from the Ph.D.s themselves?

To answer this question we create two groups:

1) Ph.D. with zero experience, 2) Ph.D. with experience

When we take Ph.D. with experience: in such instances, the educational qualification of the person is not given value; it is the technical experience which gets the highest priority. In the West, for most of the high-level job entry, it is the years of work experience that is counted irrespective of the educational qualification. In India, the scenario is a little better because people still give some importance to the educational qualification, though the professional experience is given the priority while hiring. For a fresher, it is always soft skill rather than technical. The soft skills are generally not taught in schools and colleges.

Q3:  Most of the Ph.D. face a problem of getting absorbed in a job market. Is it the real scenario in India or our approach towards the job market is different and wrong?

The Ph.D. is very focused on a specific topic and most of the time the research is on basic science which is not that useful to an employer in the industry, where the focus is more on the commercial aspect. As an employer in a fresh graduate (Ph.D.), I look for overall knowledge, non-technical skills, adaptability, and flexibility. We take people with minimum basic knowledge and then try to train/mold them according to our requirements in the industry. In this process of molding and training, not everyone reaches to our standards and expectations.

Q4: What are the different ways we can train our students so that their chances of being absorbed in the industry increases?

When a fresh grad is interviewed, the most important thing we look for is non-technical skills. One of which is communication fluency (in English) both oral and written. Many times I find the interviewees speaking in Hindi or their regional language during the interview.  When I receive a CV, I first scan for the overall presentation in the CV, like font type size, margins, and layout.  Most of the time I receive CV’s which are merely filled template. There is no time and energy invested into the making. Even when writing an Email for a job application, people generally don’t write a covering letter, they just mention in one line that “my cv is attached and kindly look at it”. All the basics of communication and behavior are not laid down in schools, and the schools are not paying adequate attention to this aspect of education which is reflected later on in their job applications and interviews. The graduate students should be trained more on the non-technical skills like body language, attire, transparency, follow-up on assignment, questionable on loyalty by staying long term, travel, enthusiasm.

Q5: What are the kinds of non-technical questions raised in the interview?

My way of judging people: when I interview people, for the first two minutes I go through their CV, in these two minutes I observe them for their behavior from the corner of my eye. I watch their body language, attire and communication skills.

Q6: Why in life science we get paid so less as compared to other streams

The salaries are benchmarked; they are always compared with the pre-existing employee salaries where people are working for lower salaries than offered in the job market.In the end everything boils down to “Supply and demand”!

Q7: What according to you is the apt time to transit from academia to industry for Ph.D. holders

Soon after Ph.D. is the best option. If experienced, then years of post -Ph.D. experience counts. Companies then require specific technical skills and that matters. Education then becomes obsolete. If transitioning many years after Ph.D., then salary, title, expectations become an issue.

Q8: What are the other options /allied career in science for a Ph.D. Fellow?

The answer to this question is influenced by the gender. As a woman, one prefer a job involving no travel and usually look for a stable job. They generally prefer bench work. This might be due to many reasons and family being one of it. Whereas, most of the men perceive and try to go up the corporate ladder. Based on this it depends on where one wants to go.

In the Indian perspective, many companies may not have R&D if they have it can be of two type-a generic formulation R&D or innovative pharmaceutical or vaccine R&D. Another division coming up these days is R&D for medical devices and IVD (in vitro diagnostics). The last two areas generally don’t hire Ph.D.s because the medical devices are run by engineers and IVD companies are very close knit and have 4-5 people with higher qualifications and rest of the staff is just bachelors or masters who do the groundwork.

Among the first two R&D types, in India we hardly find any pharmaceutical industry working on innovation (i.e. finding out new drugs). Most of the pharma industry runs on making “the generics” for which the industry requires only 1-2 Ph.D.s at the top position and few chemistry and pharmacy graduates. Ideally, there are not many positions in a pharma industry for a Ph.D. graduate, and the Ph.D. doesn’t like to tone down their expectations and take a job of a master’s student. My advice/suggestion to all the fresh Ph.D.s is to join at a lower level, don’t go after designation and salary. Prove your worth/caliber to the industry and climb up the ladder. The more the number of skills you present on the table the better your position becomes and then one can negotiate about the designation and salary.

In an industry, a Ph.D. is hired mostly for R&D. If they are open to new arenas and willing to acquire new skills they can also be hired for Medical & Scientific Writing, Regulatory, Project Management, Clinical Operations, QA, Data Management, Proposal Writing, Business Development or Compliance in my line of work.

 

The take home message

“Start from scratch, forget the education, title, show your skills, enthusiasm and passion. Work hard, let people recognize your caliber and climb the ladder”

 

This interview was coordinated and conducted by Dr. Hema Mohan (L), with support from Dr. Reetu Mehta (R) and Dr. Viswanadham Duppatla (Extreme R).  They pursued their Ph.D. in Neuroimmunology, Microbial Genetics and Biochemistry respectively. All the three of them chose to move from bench science to alternative careers in science.  Hema is presently working as a Senior Research Manager and exploring opportunities in Science Management, Reetu has explored patenting opportunities and Visu is interested in improving science education and working as COO of MNR Foundation for Research and Innovation, Hyderabad

 

Editor: Rituparna Chakrabarti

Rituparna pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. Over years, she has gained technical expertise in electron and high-resolution light microscopy, in order to study the nanostructures of specialized chemical synapses in the sensory systems. She likes to have a bird’s eye view of her undertakings and gets excited with analytics. Passionately believes in, correct simplification of science, therefore engages in different scientific communication and public outreach projects. To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.

Featured image source: Pixabay

Creative Commons License

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

 

 

From Oklahoma to Manhattan- The Genesis of Sevengenes

in Entrepreneurship/Face à Face/Medness by

Where there is a will there is a way. This is the mantra followed by scientist-turned-entrepreneur Ayyappan Subbiah. Ayyappan started his journey in the field of Material Science, obtained PhD in 1997 from IISc, Bangalore, India under the supervision of eminent Professor C.N.R. Rao. Introvert by nature, Ayyappan had a desire to bring about some kind of impact in people’s lives. This passion was rekindled during his job at ConocoPhillips where he was working as a Senior Scientist. Ayyappan did not want to entangle himself in the rut of routine work and confine himself to the realms of bench experiments. This prompted Ayyappan to break the traditional norms and set forward his journey of entrepreneurship. With the help of two friends, Ayyappan founded LivePet LLC. The first product from LivePet was an anti-inflammatory supplement for the pets. In order to take the product from the bench to over-the-counter veterinary product, Ayyappan and his mates tested their product at Liberty Research Institute, NY and carried out a couple of small trials on 50 dogs. The dogs were administered a set dose of the supplement for 30 days and were tested successfully for the safety and the change inflammatory markers. All the tested dogs were safer and healthier at the end of the study.

After developing the novel anti-inflammatory supplement for the dogs, Ayyappan started questioning himself to go further beyond pet supplements. By now he also realized that as a responsible human being, the best job he can do is to help “towards making 7 generations of human beings living together healthily/happily!” But the bigger question was what will be the source of funding for his next project? There comes a point in life of every scientist when they look for their next career move. “I just knew that after LivePet, I couldn’t go back to the monotonous life of being a lab scientist. I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives and this was the right time” reminisces Ayyappan. Ultimately, he thought of self-funding his own project. He did not know how far his self-funding will take him, but decided to begin the journey. With this dilemma being resolved, the next question was the kind of project he should start.

My first instinct was to learn about the bottle-necks in pharmaceutical industry and look for the potential problems. I wanted to find solution to the biggest challenge of the pharmaceutical industry

says Ayyappan proudly. His research yielded him the answer for his quest. He decided to work on the solubility issues of the hydrophobic drugs. He says “About 40% of drug candidates filed with FDA and 90% in the discovery pipeline are hydrophobic and possess solubility/bio-better issues. Therefore there is an immediate need for a safe and better solvent (excipient) in the pharma industry.” He wanted to test one of his novel excipient/solvent technology idea from his materials science background with a hydrophobic molecule preferably a novel molecule for the first time in the pharma industry.  Literature search yielded an ideal hydrophobic molecule called triptolide which is notoriously known to possess solubility (and toxicity) issues but never became a drug just for those reasons.

Ayyappan took it as a challenge to solubilize triptolide in the novel excipient (7GEN) or the solubilizer. That’s the birth of Ayyappan’s successful start-up called Sevengenes (www.sevengenes.com ). Since then, there has been no looking back. 7GEN significantly enhances the solubility and bioavailability of hydrophobic molecules.  7GEN is very effective compared to existing drug delivery strategies (such as lipid and nanomaterials based) used for approved drugs.

So how does he fund his start-up projects? Ayyappan is deeply passionate about his project and he used up his 401 savings to fund his project. When asked about grant funding, Ayyappan did not want to divulge the details of his idea to the federal agency before gaining patent approval. He pitched in the idea to family and friends and they acted as amazing sources of funding. His MSc classmate wanted to help him and became a co-founder. Similarly, couple of his PhD colleagues from IISc also wanted to jump in and help and they have become co-founders too.  In addition, Ayyappan’s project was also screened by a non-profit organization, i2e (www.i2e.org) that provides funds to small scale biotechs in Oklahoma. With limited funding but tons of passion and zeal, Ayyappan and Sevengenes’ cofounders outsource their experiments to CRO’s and University of Oklahoma.

They are a pre-clinical company and would like to file their Investigational New Drug (IND) application on their first drug product 7GEN-TDTM when they get their first round investment.  They would like to use their 7GEN excipient (as a platform) for many other hydrophobic drugs and take 505(b)(2) approach for a particular combination.  Meanwhile, Sevengenes recently got selected by Alexandria LaunchLabs for an incubator space in Manhattan, New York from June-2017. Their might be restricted funds but there isn’t dearth of passion inside Sevengenes.

Infoshell…..

When asked about advice he will give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Ayyappan suggests that one should chase their dreams regardless of worrying about the outcomes. He believes that once someone sets his or her brain and heart to a project, the brain will work at its best to find resources to complete the project. Ayyappan has his background in Material Science and is yet a founder of Biological Science start up. He believes in working hard and fair. He credits his spouse and family for their support. He believes that it is a two way street. He saved up enough 401(k) so as to provide secured life to his family while his family understood and supported his dream of a start-up and his project. When asked about his mantra for relieving stress, Ayyappan says he enjoys yoga and believes in the power of prayers!

Ayyappan with Ananda Ghosh (Founder of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs).

About the Author:

Imit Kaur, Ph.D. is a freelance scientific advisor, medical writer, editor, and an active science blogger. She pursued her PhD in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah. She is experienced in the field of oncology, hematology, pharmacology, nanotechnology and drug development. Follow Imit on LinkedIn (Imit Kaur) or Twitter (@imit_kaur)

 

Featured image: Ayyappan in the auspices of Alexandria Launchlabs

Blog design: Abhinav Dey

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

 

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