Yazmin I. Rovira Gonzalez
PhD Candidate | Cellular and Molecular Medicine
It is difficult to know with certainty whether you want to work for the biopharmaceutical industry if you have never been to a biopharmaceutical company. To help graduate students and postdocs at Johns Hopkins demystify the biopharmaceutical business, the Hopkins Biotech Network partnered with the Professional Development and Career Office at Johns Hopkins to arrange a site visit to AstraZeneca/MedImmune in Gaithersburg on January 31st, 2019.
In 2006, AstraZeneca and MedImmune merged to create a new biologics division under the MedImmune name. Consequently, MedImmune is the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca (AZ) – a global biopharmaceutical company. Since seats were limited, thirty selected candidates traveled from Baltimore for about an hour in the provided bus to learn about AZ/MedImmune and drug development. Participants were welcomed into one of the many meeting rooms at MedImmune headquarters by senior director of patient safety Syed Asif Haque, M.D., whom provided an overview of AZ’s pipeline, focus areas, and financial results from AZ’s 2017 annual report. Dr. Haque then introduced the audience to the drug development process which entails the following steps:
- Research and Development Phases (10-15 years)
- Post patent and exclusivity (20+ years for patents while exclusivity period varies according to type of exclusivity
- Post patent and exclusivity (20+ years for patents while exclusivity period varies according to type of exclusivity obtained)
If a biotech is interested in marketing exclusivity on revised versions of their biological product, then the company must describe to the FDA the structural differences between their product and any licensed biopharmaceutical products. Applicable structural changes include amino acid sequence, post-translational modifications, glycosylation patterns, infidelity of translation on transcription, and changes in biological activities. Once the audience was familiarized with AZ and the drug development process, the next speaker provided his insights on how to choose a pharma career. He suggested that asking yourself the following questions, would help you select a company that fits your personal and professional needs:
- What drives you? Before choosing a company to work for, it is crucial to outline your priorities to make sure they align with the company’s mission. If what you consider important doesn’t side with the work the company does, it is unlikely that it will be a good long-term fit for either party.
- How do you visualize your future? A very important step when working for anybody is visualizing yourself working for that business. For example, do you see yourself working at AZ? Does the gradual work on a drug candidate with multiple timelines, populations, and indications something you see yourself undertaking?
- Is the quality of life appropriate for your lifestyle? Be honest with yourself about your work-life régime. If you are absolutely against working on weekends, yet the job description states a high probability of weekend work, then perhaps that particular position is not a good match for you. Aim for a job that suits your way of life.
The discussion on how to choose pharma careers ended with memorable remarks. “Working in biopharma is about applying science to medicines,” said the AZ employee. “You have to love science, but you also need to have the desire to develop a medicine by applying science.”
Next, Dr. Richard Hermann reviewed the topic of patient safety. Specifically, the significance of data interpretation on drug development. At each stage of development, safety concerns are assessed, and strategies are developed to minimize such safety risks. In other words, an actionable safety plan for a drug is established in parallel with ways to monitor and mitigate safety risks.
Lastly, Dr. Clifford Sachs proceeded to discuss the early drug development process. As a Toxicology Project Leader, Dr. Sachs works in teams to guide the selection of a safe drug and his group is responsible for communicating any drug safety concerns to other teams. The toxicology meetings involve talking about assay development, timelines, regulatory submissions, and other early development milestones. Once acquainted with the drug development process and AZ, we all participated in a tour of the facilities, including one state-of-the-art laboratory.
The tour concluded with an open discussion with the human resources department where a couple representatives – Trey Niemeier and Cara Pinkney – went over available jobs and AZ’s hiring process. The HR representatives mentioned that the job application process for AZ is about 90 days (30 days if the job needs to be filled immediately). Some of the characteristics that the HR department looks for in applicants include:
- Project management skills
- Strong scientific background
- Strong communication with supervisors
- Ability to ask for help and interact with others
- Experience collaborating with cross-functional team.
For many academic researchers looking to see if industry is a suitable career path, events like the trek to AstraZeneca/MedImmune may help reveal this potentially fulfilling alternative world for the interested scientist. To participate in future events like this, reach out to the Hopkins Biotech Network and the Johns Hopkins Professional Development and Career Office .