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My Leap Into the Dynamic Pharmaceutical Milieu


If you are considering jumping from the ivory tower of academic research to a career in the pharmaceutical industry, my experience may lend you some insight.

I came from a very academic environment, with both M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the family, and I was brought up with an appreciation for scientific discovery and social responsibility. I chanced on a career in the pharmaceutical industry when I took a 1-month contract to perform statistical analyses and draft manuscripts after submitting my master?s thesis. My plan at the time was to finish the contract, backpack around Europe, and then continue with a Ph.D. program at my university. Instead, I was given the opportunity to extend the contract and eventually become a full-time employee at Merck Frosst Canada. That 1-month contract turned into a 14-year career with a company whose core values I respect.

While I found the academic environment to be intellectually rewarding, there were attendant frustrations as well. These frustrations, which are probably felt by many scientists at one time or another, stem from feelings that one?s work exists in a vacuum and that academia can be cloistered. I wanted to move from theory to practical applications of benefit to patients and within a reasonable time frame, from intellectual query and inception in the laboratory to a solution on the pharmacy shelf. At Merck Frosst Canada, I have been an integral part of the discovery of a new molecule, the testing of its mechanism of action, the validation of its safety and efficacy in Phase IIb and III clinical trials, the market approval of the resulting product, and the subsequent management of patients and their disease.

As a full-time employee at Merck Frosst Canada, I cut my teeth on Phase IIb and III clinical trials in the areas of cardiology, endocrinology, infectious disease, and rheumatology. I began in a small department with a few clinical research associates and regional monitors and was given the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in clinical medicine. Today that department is at least five times the size, and it works in or with a variety of therapeutic classes, new disease areas, and a very large network of physicians participating in clinical trials across the country. Unlike most academic pursuits, I was not limited to a small field of endeavor but rather a vast field of clinical medicine. The learning curve with each new therapeutic class in which I became involved was very steep, but along the way I had the support of the many basic scientists and clinical physicians at the company. The company provided the resources that enabled me to hone my skills at new challenges, such as negotiating budgets and effective communication with either internal or external audiences.

I then moved within the company to a brand new department called Patient Health, where I designed disease management programs to assess the real-world efficacy of our medications and to improve patient compliance. This was an entirely new area for the company and for the industry in Canada. The new position required the flexibility and creativity to work with various partners with different viewpoints to realize a common direction and to produce a program to ensure that patient needs remained at the center of the process. I worked with academic researchers, clinicians, patient advocacy groups, and government agencies to develop a scientific protocol for measurement and feedback. The philosophy of the programs was ?the right medication for the right patient at the appropriate cost.?

At this point, I moved on to a position in health policy planning where I was able to gain a better understanding of the challenges we face with the future of health care in Canada. To break into this new area, the company paid my way through a number of university courses in pharmacoeconomics and health policy. The company invested in my education and in my understanding of the issues, all of which enhanced my professional abilities. In my most recent position, as a senior manager in clinical research, I design and manage Phase IV clinical evaluation programs for large general practitioner audiences within very short timelines. The protocols need to take into consideration a busy practice environment while offering the potential for the physician to be involved in scientific research with their peers. Their patients benefit by being closely monitored to assess the efficacy and safety of novel medications that are intended to treat their disease.

Throughout my career, I have been given the rewarding experience of mentoring students in pharmacy, pharmacology, and business. The assignments completed by students assist the department in the planning and implementation of large projects. The students are given the opportunity to work closely with leaders in the field of clinical medicine and business and to gain a better understanding of the pharmaceutical industry.

I also attend scientific conferences and congresses in North America and internationally where I interact with academic researchers and clinicians in a number of disease areas. I have had the privilege of being able to publish scientific abstracts with academic partners, teach classes at the university, and present scientific results to my peers.

My scientific background gave me the tools I needed to manage the challenges of the business environment in the pharmaceutical industry, such as working in cross-functional teams with varied objectives and agendas. I have found my work at Merck Frosst to be both rewarding and intellectually stimulating. It can be a dynamic environment with ample latitude for personal growth, and I believe that the skills a scientist develops through their academic training suits them well for a career in this industry.

In writing this article about myself, I was able to look back over a very interesting and fulfilling career in the pharmaceutical industry, and it has made me realize that if I had to do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing.