Under the Microscope ; Pharmacists' Skils Can Be Used in a Range of Roles in Industry, from Clinical Trials to Marketing, Says Alison Whyte

By Whyte, Alison | The Independent (London, England), August 31, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Under the Microscope ; Pharmacists' Skils Can Be Used in a Range of Roles in Industry, from Clinical Trials to Marketing, Says Alison Whyte


Whyte, Alison, The Independent (London, England)


Sonia Patel says deciding which job to choose is a bit like trying on clothes. "You don't know what suits you until you try," she says. "I have always been interested in science which was why I wanted to be a pharmacist."

Patel is now senior associate scientist at Pfizer where she has worked for two and a half years. "After I qualified I knew I wanted to apply and develop my skills in helping to invent new medicines which would improve and save people's lives. I was also attracted by working with world-class researchers at the forefront of cutting- edge science and medical technology. I find my work fascinating and challenging," she says.

In the past, the career path for pharmacists in industry tended to lead into management. Now their skills are being deployed in away that makes more use of their extensive training whether in clinical trials, drug information, regulatory affairs, marketing or sales.

Patel is in research and development, working at the "discovery/ development interface" in the pain therapeutic area. She says the learning curve has been very steep "but they allow you to grow at your pace and they recognise your contribution." She works with people from other disciplines on a daily basis.

Dr Michael Parker, vice chair of the Industrial Pharmacists Group at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPS GB), says there has been a decline in the number of pharmacists entering industry in recent years. "This is partly due to the pharmacy undergraduate curriculum which tends to focus on clinical aspects and partly because there have been fewer pre-registration placements in industry and partly because there is strong competition for all jobs in the industry."

Parker says industry is still immensely attractive to some graduates. "If you really love the science and you want to go into drug discovery, there will be stiff competition from other scientists in specialist disciplines such as molecular biology and synthetic chemistry and therefore a higher degree could be an advantage. But pharmacists have a breadth of understanding through the degree course which gives them a natural advantage over many other science graduates for a broad range of roles in the industry."

Patel says there is growing recognition of pharmacists in industry. "I think the fact that pharmacists have a huge range of skills and can see the broader picture is becoming very desirable."

There are 46,974 registered pharmacists in the UK. Around 20,000 are in community pharmacies, 6,000 work in hospitals, 2,000 in primary care, 1,000 in industry and 500 in academia.

Parker now works in regulatory affairs, as director of chemistry and manufacturing controls for AstraZeneca in the UK. He has held this post for two years, having previously spent 16 years in various roles in phar-maceutical product development. He says, "I guess I am a very good example of the flexibility of industry. Pharmacists have the opportunity to move around a number of disciplines and broaden their experience."

He says many start out in research and development in areas such as pharmaceutical development or clinical trial supplies.

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