Building a career in R&D in the pharma industry

Dr. Monica Gulati

As the entire world applauds the success of Indian COVID vaccine, the Research & Development (R&D) teams responsible for the development of efficient and safe vaccines in record time and in huge numbers, are still working hard to find solutions to the problems posed by this pandemic. This vaccine success comes on top of the Indian pharma industry being hailed as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’, as a result of exporting COVID-19 drugs across the globe. On a grim note, the pandemic has highlighted our over-dependence on China for certain essential ingredients. To get over this challenge, an Rs 15,000 crore Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme exports has been rolled out for enhancing India’s manufacturing capabilities and capabilities.

The R&D sector of the Pharma industry has already entered into 2021 with a bang, having much wider investor interest and public support. Because of all these factors, the Pharma R&D sector is emerging as the most favored destination for bright aspirants.

Apart from the conventional areas of Pharma R&D that focus on synthesis, isolation, pharmacology, toxicology, formulation development, stability, analysis, quality control, quality assurance and clinical data management of drugs and their products, the emerging areas that have gained significance are logistics / supply chain / cold chains, epidemiology, data integrity, security systems, compliance measures and policies.

Though the pharma industry has always been the most research intensive business sector, it is turning more diverse with incredibly rewarding opportunities. Entry level researchers must know that R&D is a critical stage in drug development that involves rigorous research in different directions to determine its therapeutic suitability. Collaboration in an industry setting is required among scientists who develop the molecules, find out its therapeutic efficacy, create formulation, and check its quality and safety at pre-clinical and clinical levels and finally those who manufacture it at the industrial scale.

Generally, a designation of ‘Scientist’ or ‘Research Associate’ is given at entry level after post graduation of doctorate in Pharmaceutical Sciences.

You will need to work closely with the other members of the multi-disciplinary team. Therefore, team players who can communicate their results well to the other members of the team are generally more successful.

Scientists in the Pharma companies with global presence may be located in different countries, providing an international element leading to a wider experience and learning. The commercial realization of the product developed in the R&D lab is the dream of any scientist. It is the R&D sector that gives an opportunity to fulfill this dream. The remuneration and other financial benefits for their work are also quite gratifying.

For those that are keen to enter the R&D sector, it is imperative to start tailoring your CV at the UG stage only.

Apart from a strong technical hold on your subject, recruiters look for additional experience in laboratory techniques.

As a team player, communication skills are sought after along with an ability to work as part of a team and share credit.

Any sort of Industry experience adds additional value. This may not be possible due to the highly regulated nature of the professional courses but work experience in the form of internships, online courses, participation in institution level projects, publications arising from your capstone projects and voluntary social work will always provide an edge.

Of course, if you have been able to prepare a blueprint for any convincing future innovation, it is going to add a great value to your CV.

Other two highly rewarding options that can be considered by Pharma graduates are R&D of Nutraceutical and Cosmeceuticals industries that require a similar skill set.

These are the emerging R & Ds wherein food, cosmetics, medicine and technology converge and include personal care products, functional foods, herbal supplements, health beverages and medically formulated foods with an immense market potential.

In the post-pandemic scenario the focus of the general public has shifted from treatment to prevention, giving a boost to the products that bolster immunity.

We can simply conclude that for those professionals that possess the right combination of hard skills, soft skills, experience and leadership capabilities, then the opportunities in R&D for these three overlapping areas are unprecedented.

The writer is Senior Dean, Faculty of Applied Sciences, Lovely Professional University

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