I am surrounded by fantastic scientists - I feed off their enthusiasm. Lyn
So, what do you do?
I'm head of chemistry for the rare disease group at a major biopharmaceutical company. I also lead a chemical biology group that uses chemistry to understand the biological processes that cause disease. Our team is also using chemistry to improve biologicals (or ‘chemologics’ as we like to call them). I ensure that we have a portfolio of projects that deliver the most value to our drug discovery efforts and I ensure our work fits the overarching strategy of the chemistry discipline within the company.
Previously I was the chemistry representative for Imperial College. This role included supporting undergraduate and postgraduate activities and scientific initiatives, including areas where there were opportunities for collaboration.
What does your typical day involve?
I’m on my feet practically all day. I’m not a big fan of e-mail, or the telephone for that matter, so I’ll go and find out whoever it is I need to talk to. This could be a biologist, chemist (synthetic, medicinal, computational, analytical), biophysicist, patent attorney, drug metabolism expert, pharmaceutical scientist, chief scientific officer, head of research etc. I am surrounded by fantastic scientists – I spend most of my time learning from them and ensuring we’re doing the right thing in our group. I feed off their enthusiasm.
I use public transport to commute, so I use that time to read journals to keep up with emerging science. I tend not to switch off from my work, so I’ll be thinking about it all day. It’s a job with significant responsibilities – it just doesn’t feel right if I don’t give it 100%. I suppose this is a reflection of how much I enjoy it and its importance means it plays a huge part in my life.
Do you work mostly on your own or as part of team?
I lead a team that has a range of chemistry and chemical biology skills and experience. Each project we work on also has an associated multidisciplinary team. I’m also pretty heavily involved in our global chemical biology network group
What is it like socially where you work?
We work in an open plan area – there are no offices! This helps with scientific and social interactions. I particularly enjoy taking the group out to celebrate project successes.
How long have you been in your current role?
I’m coming up to nine years in the pharmaceutical industry.
What qualifications and experience do you have?
I took 4 A-levels, (Chemistry A, Physics A, Maths A, Biology A) before my first degree in Chemistry at Bath University (First) and my PhD at Nottingham University (Total Synthesis of Zaragozic Acid C). I then took my postdoctoral studies at The Scripps Research Institute in California in the area of chemical biology. I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 16 years.
When and why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
This might sound a little unusual, but I think it all started when I was about 10 years old. My mother reminds me that I came to her one day to tell her that I wanted to help other people and that it was likely I would have to leave my home town to do it. It was about this time a family member became very ill and the experience made a huge impression on me. As time went on I found a natural fit was chemistry, and later, synthetic organic chemistry, which aligned with my primary aim (drug discovery). My industrial training year during my first degree was spent at a pharmaceutical company in Basel, Switzerland, developing novel immunosuppressants for organ transplantation, and I absolutely loved it.
How has your career developed since you left university?
I started out using the synthetic chemistry expertise I had developed during my studies to make an impact on projects. From day one I supervised a talented synthetic chemist and as a team we worked well. As time went on I developed my skills as a medicinal chemist and supervisor and took on more senior positions within the company. In about 2006 I started incorporating chemical biology into our preclinical research, and over the years I have established the discipline within the company. In 2011 I left the UK to work for the same company in the US to lead the rare disease chemistry and chemical biology groups.
Do you think additional qualifications or experience would be an advantage for someone entering the industry now?
I’m probably biased, but in my opinion, synthetic organic chemistry underpins successful medicinal chemistry design and the chemical biology discipline. It is tempting to incorporate interdisciplinary qualifications early on, but sometimes this is done a little too early by some and they become a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. Specialising in synthetic organic chemistry for example for your PhD and then moving on to chemical biology for a post doctorate is the path I took, and glad I did.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Establishing the chemical biology discipline within the industry and developing our group into a world-leader in the area. Also, building the rare disease group from scratch and creating a strong preclinical portfolio.
It has also been a pleasure to work with a number of talented individuals and help develop their skills as effective scientists that are real assets to the company.
What’s the biggest difference between working in academia and the pharmaceutical industry?
I’d say our currencies are different: industry – drugs; academia - publications. However, the lines between the two are now more blurry than when I started in the industry. For example, I publish research papers and give invited external talks based on the innovations in our group. I sit on the editorial boards of journals and was elected to the Chemistry Biology Interface Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Also, I collaborate strongly with several academic groups all over the world.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Make sure that everything you do is in the best interest of the patient – never lose sight of this.