Clinical Safety Scientist
I am responsible for monitoring and evaluating the safety profile of my company's neuroscience medicines. Lisa
So, what do you do?
I am responsible for proactively monitoring and evaluating all aspects of the safety profile in human patients within the neuroscience therapy area. In a nutshell, we as a department aim to ensure the benefit of taking a medicine is greater than the risk of taking it. We provide the safety documentation (patient information leaflet) found within the package of medicine that patients take ie. who should and who shouldn’t take the medicine, how much they should take, potential interactions with other medicines and possible side effects. We also keep regulators up to date with the safety profile of our medicines by sending them regular reports of adverse events (potential side effects of the medicine) that patients taking our medicine experience.
What does your typical day involve?
I start by reading and responding to emails when I arrive in the morning and checking my calendar to check for any meetings that day. I also have to review any new reports of adverse events for the drugs I look after which have been entered onto the safety database by the case management group. I might spend a few hours using the internet to research a specific condition/disease and taking notes in order to write an evaluation, then use the safety database to perform certain searches for a particular medicine. I have regular meetings (teleconferences) with my team in the US, so I might need to prepare some documents or emails for one of these, so I can update the team or take notes while at the meeting.
Do you work mostly on your own or as part of team?
Both – a lot of the routine work is on my own, but there are certain projects which are team-based, such as preparation of periodic safety reports which are sent to regulatory authorities. These documents require a team effort from in terms of contribution from clinical, statistics, regulatory and safety departments, so we all have to work together to be able to produce the necessary information for these important documents.
How long have you been in your current role?
I have been working for this company for four years, and in my current role for nine months. I took a six-month secondment in this role from the case management group in the safety department, and was offered a permanent position at the end of the six months.
What qualifications and experience do you have?
I have Scottish Highers in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and English. I have a BSc (Hons) degree in Pharmacology from Dundee University, an MSc by research in Pharmacology from Aberdeen University and a PhD in Medicine and Therapeutics from Aberdeen.
When and why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
I decided to join the industry after completing a post-doctoral position in the US. My return to the UK was an ideal opportunity to explore new challenges – a patient-focused approach and the many different opportunities for development within the pharmaceutical industry was something that I found attractive.
How has your career developed since you left university?
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the US which was a fantastic experience. Also, I’ve been able to move from academic research into a competitive industry which is different on so many levels. I had to be prepared to “start at the bottom” when I joined the pharmaceutical industry, but perseverance and hard work has got me to my current level which lets me use a lot of the skills I have picked up along the way, and importantly for me, the pharmacology background I gained at university is put to good use on a day to day level.
Do you think additional qualifications or experience would be an advantage for someone entering the industry now?
I think the opportunity to do a placement year in a pharmaceutical company is one of the best advantages a graduate could have in securing themselves a good career and would urge students to look into placement years when they start university. Also, if there are opportunities for work experience, I’d highly recommend spending some time alongside some members of the industry whose field you would like to work in.
What is it like socially where you work?
Personally, I find it pretty good. I’m an active member of the company tennis club, a book club and part of an events committee based at our site, which helps organise events outside of work for the employees. Within different departments there are always different social groups, these may be purely sport-related (eg five-a-side football) or frequenters of pubs on a Friday night. If you look around, there is something for everyone.
What are you most proud of in your career?
It sounds quite cliché, but probably obtaining a PhD, since I was the first in my family to leave school with any qualifications. It wasn’t something I set out to achieve, but at that time, I loved the idea of doing research which nobody else was doing, and to help fill in (however small) an enormous jigsaw of how the human body works.
What possibilities are there for your career in the future?
More responsibility for products in terms of decisions and actions I can make on my own, movement across to products in development rather than those on the market, and team-leader/manager type roles. Also, because of the size of the company, there are opportunities to explore roles in different departments which align with drug safety eg. clinical development and regulatory departments.
What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?
I would say someone who has good problem-solving skills, can manage their time effectively and be organised, and have a “can-do” attitude. A proactive approach, and good judgement in terms of decision making are also key for this type of role.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Be aware that the industry offers many different types of role in many varied departments, so don’t feel pressured into choosing a role that will suit you for the rest of your career – changes are possible, getting your foot in the door to start with can be the most difficult part!