People with strong mathematical and/or engineering backgrounds would be highly suited to this role. Neil
So, what do you do?
Currently I am a modeller in the pharmacokinetic/ pharmacodynamic (PKPD) group. This is a group of 8 people. The group provides PKPD support to all of the research projects. Our aim is to influence all parts of an experiment from the study design (e.g. dose levels, number of doses, sampling times etc.) to maximise the information obtained.
I take the pharmacokinetic (pk) and the pharmacodynamic (pd) data from these studies and combine the two sets of data to try and explain how the biological effect changes with both time and concentration. Once I have a mathematical model that can describe this process, the model can then be used to simulate other ‘what if’ scenarios. It can also be used to begin to translate what we expect to happen in humans, and be used to predict dose size and frequency.
The role of the modeller can span the whole research and development space, from very early project inception through to product launch and beyond. A large part of the role is clear and concise communication of the modelling outcomes back to the project teams. This output can be used to design further experiments, prioritise compounds/series and generally to move the projects forward.
What does your typical day involve?
On a typical day I will use project pharmacokinetic and efficacy / biomarker data and try to fit mathematical models to this data. The work has to be done quickly to be useful in decision making on a project. It can be used to either speed up project progression, or stop a project if it is looking unlikely to succeed. I also attend regular project meetings and discuss progress of both my work and the project.
Another important aspect of the job is study design, so I will meet with the experimenters to discuss their planned work. A well designed study can deliver much more useful information then a poorly designed one using the same resources, therefore increasing efficiency and productivity.
Do you work mostly on your own or as part of team?
The work largely involves working on my own to develop the mathematical model. Once this has been completed I then present this back at project team meetings to discuss the impact of the modelling and future project plans. I also have one-to-one meetings with the experimenters to aid on study design and data interpretation.
What qualifications and experience do you have?
I took A-levels in Biology, Maths and History. I studied at Aston University for a BSc in Applied and Human Biology. I am currently studying part-time at Sheffield University for an MSc in Modelling and Simulation in Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics.
When and why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
I decided on a career in the pharmaceutical industry when I was studying at university. The opportunity to be able to work with cutting edge technology and techniques to advance novel compounds towards being marketed drugs was something that really appealed to me. The opportunity to try and find new drugs to treat disease and help people is a privilege.
How has your career developed since you left university?
When I left university 10 years ago I joined the Pharmacokinetic, Dynamics and Metabolism Department of my current company. However, I have held a number of different roles in that time.
I started my working life as a discovery scientist working in the lab generating in vitro data for a large number of assays, and feeding this back to the project teams. Over time this role developed further and I took on more responsibilities and had a project support role where I was in charge of all the drug metabolism aspects for a couple of projects. Then, as the company re-organised, I joined the pharmacokinetic group where I was responsible for characterising and understanding the pharmacokinetics of project compounds. It was from this role that I moved into my current position where I use mathematical models to understand the concentration vs. effect relationship of compounds in animals and try and translate this into predicted effects in man.
Do you think additional qualifications or experience would be an advantage for someone entering the industry now? What might be valuable?
In the PKPD environment people with strong mathematical and/or engineering backgrounds would be highly suited to the role.
What is it like socially where you work?
There is an active sports and social club. Also there is a large core of people around my age-group so there is always something going on!
What are you most proud of in your career?
I was able to perform a small piece of work on a compound that has recently been launched for use against HIV. Maraviroc (Celsentri) is the first CCR5 antagonist on the market and is a really powerful new treatment for doctors to use in peoples treatment regimens. It was great to see it released, and even though I had only done a little work on this compound it felt like a great achievement.
Having my work published in a scientific journal this year was also a proud moment for me.
What possibilities are there for your career in the future?
There are opportunities to progress within the company, and become more skilled in the work that I do. There are two routes available; one is more managerial where you can supervise other individuals. The other route is to stay more involved in the science and have opportunities to mentor new colleagues.
What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?
As well as a suitable educational background, you need good communication skills. Ensuring the experiments are designed correctly, and the results of the modelling are presented well, are very important. Good time-management and organisational skills are also very useful as I am often working on several projects at once managing different deadlines for each one.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Try and get some ‘hands-on’ work experience as early as possible as there are so many different areas that you could work in and this will help you to decide where your real passion lies!