Career path in research vs development in pharma

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Career Path

Postby PG » Sat Nov 14, 2009 4:03 pm

JJ, We usually set up our research collaborations in one out of two ways. The first option is that we identify a research group or researcher that does things that we are interested in and we contact them.
The most common alternative is that someone initiates a discussion about a potential project at for example a congress in which we have an exhibition. We are always open for discussing projects with people who approaches us. Even if the suggested projects are completely useless the person approaching us is a potential customer or at least someone who might talk about us which means that you are likely to get a polite response and to be able to present what you want to say. The main problem will be to identify a person from the company that will actually understand what you are saying (which might not be true for sales reps)
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Career Path

Postby Andrew » Sun Nov 15, 2009 10:10 am

Academics can go straight into development too, just not from the departments you are used to interacting with. They come from Analytical and Pharmaceutical Science departments, where they become experts in analytical development and formulation. Personally, I know no people that move between discovery and development because, though they are both scientists, they have very different backgrounds.
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Career Path

Postby MJ Jep » Sun Nov 15, 2009 4:14 pm

Andrew, You brought up an interesting point and I wonder if you/others could comment on it. I am begining to recognize that development is a better place to be for my career (to many discovery PhDs). I have just started my graduate training in biochemistry. In the current rotation I am on, I feel is a dead end ( will anyone care about how to make protein xyz less effective?). When you speak of different backgrounds, what kind of experience should I be getting? Is it simply a matter of learning techniques/machines? I have a lot of analytical tools I can learn during my stay here. Is that what industry is looking for? I often hear ( possibly not from the best sources) that... If you plan to go into industry ,try to specialize in a technique/machine. This seems more like a path to being a technician then being a scientist. Would it be possible to jump into development right after the Biochemistry PhD?

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Career Path

Postby JJ » Sun Nov 15, 2009 7:45 pm

PG: This area is under intense research by pharma. What im trying to figure out firstly is how to find out everyone working on it, how to choose which one to approach in which order, who to approach at the company and how to approach them so that they want to work with us.
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Career Path

Postby PG » Mon Nov 16, 2009 8:15 am

JJ, finding out what they are working on is usually not that easy unless you have a good networking contact that thinks he/she can slip you information that may not be public. In our case we have a few official projects that can be found for example through the homepage and several others for which no information reaches the public.

You can probably assume that a company that has products on the market within a specific field will have ongoing research within that field and in addition if you have a project within a highly competitive area you can probably assume that several or all of the major players in your field will have relevant reseach ongoing. In this situation I would receomend to try to identify a company that you potentially want to work with, again networking contacts will help you to find out which ones to avoid.

Once you have one or a few target companies approach scientific staff at a congress/meeting. Describe what you are doing (in general terms) and that you are looking for a pharma/biotech collaboration to investigate question x. If they are interested they will either ask for more information or request a meeting. If they are interested the person you talked to will have to go back home, report your discussion, get a go ahead for continued discussions and/or hand over to someone else before the next step can be taken. If you are talking with large companies be patient because it may take a long time for them to reach a decision. If you dont hear anything you can either contact the person you talked to at the meeting or try to follow-up when you meet them again (maybe at the next meeting within the same field)
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Career Path

Postby M. Leung » Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:06 pm

Really interesting thread going on here.

Mind if I ask a naive far along the drug discovery process is 'development'? Is it basically anything after identification of a target? In the biology arm, is it just assay development to screen in vitro and in vivo for efficacy?

My long term goal is to be more of a project manager where I am involve in both R and D. Should I try to get some D experience for my postdoc, since I already have the R skills from graduate school?
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Career Path

Postby Derek McPhee » Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:21 pm

the D is moving earlier and earlier in the process as companies try to figure out a way to kill projects early and it is typically in D where the deal-killers are identified.
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Career Path-help please

Postby Raju » Mon Dec 28, 2009 10:23 pm

Dear forum,
During my postdoc work, I identified a protein which is activated by another upstream protein. A major Pharma company is interested in developing drugs targeting the upstream protein. However there are no good assay methods available for activity of this upstream protein. During my work, I found that my protein is completely dependent on the upstream protein and I used some assays to show this. Now my PI is negotiating with this company and apparently company is going to pay lot of money to my PI and university for use of this method during their high-throughput screening. One part of deal is that I have to go to company lab and develop assay for them. Company will pay me academic postdoc salary. My PI thinks that this will round-out my postdoc experience and it will be useful when I apply for industrial jobs. Some people I talked to implied that assay development is done by BS/MS scientists and if I write about it in CV for PhD-level jobs, hiring managers will laugh. Is this true? Will this experience make me stand out from rest of applicants or will it actually decrease my chances of finding PhD-level jobs. Company is reluctant to allow me to publish. So,if this experience is not going to count towards anything, may be I will be better off trying to finish my other projects and publish.
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Career Path-help please

Postby Kevin Foley » Mon Dec 28, 2009 11:33 pm


If your goal is to work in industry, this could be great experience and a wonderful networking opportunity for you. Just don't let it result in too long a delay in accomplishing what you need to accomplish before moving on to your next position.

And, the advice your colleagues are giving you is incorrect in my opinion. Assay development is a very important aspect of drug development, and people who are good at it are in demand. As in most things, while BS/MS technicians might do most of the work, PhDs run the show. But they can't do that if they don't have right experience, and the state of the art in this area tends to be found in industry not academia. You will likely find that assay development is not quite as simple as you imagine when operating in a high-throughput environment. It's one thing to develop and use an assay with a throughput of 10s to 100s or even 1000s of data points, but it's quite another to do so when the goal is to screen one million compounds, which is not unusual in Big Pharma.

Who knows, you may even learn more from the company than the company will learn from you!

I wouldn't worry so much about publishing, but it would be nice if you had permission to at least present something in job talks (wouldn't have to be all the details). It would be a nice end to your story, doing the basic research and then applying it to real world drug development. That would be a story that would interest industry hiring managers.

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Career Path-help please

Postby Ale » Tue Dec 29, 2009 8:15 am

Some people I talked to implied that assay development is done by BS/MS scientists and if I write about it in CV for PhD-level jobs, hiring managers will laugh. Is this true?

Raju this is completely fake. As Kevin said PhDs design the assays and run the show. Techs do the actual work, in particular once the technique has been standardized and works reliably, but to set it up you need PhDs, and I must say that often PhDs with quite a few years of industry experience.

Don't take any more industry advice from that same person.

I think it is a fantastic opportunity! it will give you a huge advantage ahead of all the crowd of grads/postdocs that want to transition to industry. It will teach you a lot on how research works in that company and in drug discovery/development and will teach the company how you perform. Sheez I don't see any reason not to do it!
(just be aware that assay development is quite hard, but if you love challenge you are gonna love this one!)

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