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Issue 127 Spring 2018

Endocrinologist > Spring 2018 > Features

A career in pharma: is it for you?

Ben Challis | Features

Low morale amongst healthcare professionals, coupled with the cloud of uncertainty that looms over the post-Brexit scientific landscape, has led many scientists and clinicians to weigh up the pros and cons of alternative careers. Many may contemplate a career in pharma, but few ultimately decide to take the plunge. This may be due to ‘cold feet’ resulting from limited exposure to pharmaceutical medicine as trainees and/or the varied perceptions of the ‘dark side’ that exist (any Ben Goldacre fans?).

'The clinician scientist is highly sought after at various stages of traditional drug development.'

The pharmaceutical industry offers a multitude of career opportunities for both basic and clinical scientists across the spectrum of drug development. Many pre-clinical scientists will have colleagues, across all pay grades, who have made a successful and seamless leap from academia to pharma. It is true that their research autonomy may be compromised. However, for many scientists stepping off the academic funding carousel, this sacrifice is a small one, as opportunities to explore new scientific curiosities are presented. Those new to pharmaceutical research and development will find a highly rigorous and innovative research environment defined by ‘truth seeking’, in order to minimise expensive failures of new medicines in advanced clinical programmes.

The clinician scientist is highly sought after at various stages of traditional drug development. Whilst first-in-man studies that characterise the pharmacokinetic properties of a drug largely remain the realm of clinical pharmacologists, clinicians are an integral part of clinical trial design and execution, pharmacovigilance, marketing and medical and regulatory affairs.

With costs increasing exponentially through each phase of drug development, the pharmaceutical industry continuously strives to lower the attrition rates of new medicines. In the current drug development paradigm, late-stage failure of a medicine is predominantly a result of insufficient efficacy. In order to improve efficiency and increase productivity, it is recognised that successful implementation of early clinical and translational research that provides early validation of a human drug target and improved understanding of human disease mechanisms is necessary.

It is within this context that the skill set of clinician scientists is increasingly valued by pharma. Looking forward, unique and exciting opportunities at the interface between pre-clinical research and development and early clinical development are emerging. Importantly, many pharmaceutical companies recognise the strategic importance of industry-employed physicians maintaining their clinical competency and knowledge and, in many instances, they encourage medically qualified employees to remain clinically active.

In summary, careers in the pharmaceutical industry are challenging, exciting, highly varied and rewarding. So take the plunge and explore how you can help the ‘dark side’ to bring important new medicines to the clinic and transform the lives of your patients.

Ben Challis, Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge and Associate Director Physician, Clinical Discovery Unit, Early Clinical Development, AstraZeneca

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