TCP Informational Interview: Dr. Thomas Beveridge
Thomas Beveridge., M.Sc. Ph.D., is the Associate Director of Clinical Sciences and Medical Affairs and current interim Medical Director of Urology at Ferring Pharmaceuticals. He also serves as the Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Could you tell me about your job history?
- Ph.D. – Neuropharmacology, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK (1999-2003).
- Postdoctoral Fellowship – Dept. of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine (2003-2006).
- Assistant Professor – Dept. of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine (2006-2014).
I was in the academic world for most of my career, until just over 2 years ago when I moved to an industry position. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in the UK. It was a four year degree, and interestingly the third year was an optional year with a chance to gain experience in industry. I was fortunate enough to get chosen to go Switzerland to work for Sandoz, in Bern. I was there for a year working on a variety of projects, primarily measuring neuronal activity via extracellular electrophysiology in rats. This was an instrumental experience for me, as I got to see science in action for the first time, which made me fall in love with bench work. It also made me realize that I needed PhD level training to get ahead in science and move up the ladder. I then spent the next few years completing my Master’s degree in Advanced Neuro- and Molecular Pharmacology and PhD in Neuropharmacology, both in the UK. I was then offered a postdoctoral fellowship at Wake Forest School of Medicine. I was fascinated by the opportunity to work with non-human primates and to collaborate with world experts such as Linda Porrino, Mike Nader and Dave Roberts. I was subsequently offered an Assistant Professor position and continued working at Wake Forest School of Medicine until 2014. I then joined Ferring Pharmaceuticals as Manager of Clinical Sciences, in the Medical Affairs department, and within a year at Ferring was promoted to Associate Director.
Why did you choose this career?
I was absolutely fascinated to discover the molecular aspect of receptors and receptor signaling. Many of the drugs/compounds that one may take can profoundly change behavior. It was very interesting to me that there were numerous receptors and transporters in the brain affected by drugs, which have an everyday function. Therefore, I wanted to study how these drugs affected the pharmacology of our brains, and thereby control behavior. My career later turned from academia to industry, where I am right now. I shifted to industry primarily because it was becoming more difficult to secure grants, but I also wanted a position that more directly influenced patient care and health care practitioner best practices. Therefore, I started looking for alternative career opportunities within pharmaceutical industry. I met Dennis Marshall, Ph.D. (Executive Director, Clinical Sciences, Medical Affairs at Ferring) through his daughter, Allyson, who was a graduate student in my department. After we had met and discussed career options, Dr. Marshall offered me a position at Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Though I had little idea of what I was getting into, some of my closest mentors knew Dr. Marshall and encouraged me to take the position. I took a leap of faith and I absolutely love it here.
Describe a typical day in your job.
Within Clinical Sciences, a large part of what we do is reactionary. I respond to incoming requests from the commercial/ marketing arm of the organization, who might need specific information about our products, for example the detailed mechanism of action. We serve as subject matter experts within the company for our products. I am also the lead on assessing business development opportunities from a medical/ clinical perspective. As the interim Medical Director for Urology, I oversee activities such as ongoing Phase IV clinical trials, label expansion efforts and approve promotional materials concerning our prostate cancer drug. I have to do a lot of writing including abstracts, publications, manuscripts and preparing numerous presentations. In addition to educating other scientists, many times, I need to put together slides about drug information in simple to understand language for the non-scientific folks. A fundamental activity of Clinical Sciences is understanding the molecular basis of the disease states across all therapeutic areas and how the mechanism of action of our products interact with those pathways. We engage physicians in a two-way exchange of information and endeavor to drive knowledge and treatment practices forward. Work priorities change very rapidly and we frequently field calls from any of our Global offices (including Europe) to find out a particular information about a product. We need to remain very flexible and work in every therapeutic area.
What things do you like most about your job?
The fact that I get to learn new things all the time, makes me really love my job. At Ferring, as Associate Director, I work in Orthopedics, Reproductive health, Women’s Health, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, in addition to serving as the Medical Director in Urology. It is impossible to know everything in these areas all the time. Therefore, I constantly have to read more and learn more, and that is one of the most fun things about my current job. Having that breadth of knowledge, Clinical Sciences attempts to connect the dots between various diseases states by understanding the similarities in signaling pathways etc. We also get to interact with people from very different backgrounds including physicians, pharmacists, R&D scientists as well as commercial and marketing folks. Interacting with such a varied group of experts produces highly diverse conversations and enables us to understand how people view the value of our products and their place in the market. This is a very rewarding experience as well.
What is the most challenging part in your job?
The most challenging part of my job is dealing with people from diverse backgrounds. In the pharmaceutical industry, people have very different communication and leadership styles, as compared to scientific academic department. Just being able to adapt to various personality styles and still communicate accurate scientific information to a wide variety of people is one of the most challenging aspects of my job.
What are the duties in your job that are essential but least enjoyable?
The duties that I enjoy the least include writing yearly and mid-yearly performance reviews and administrative tasks such as filling out expenses. Honestly, I really enjoy my job, so there are very few things that I don’t like!
Looking back over the years of job experience in your field, what do you think you should have done differently?
I wouldn’t do anything differently. Experiences make you who you are today. It would be easy to say that if I had studied harder in classes such as chemistry or math, it would significantly help the development of my career. However, I was also having a lot of fun outside the classroom doing lots of things that make me into the person I am today. The fact that I had to work extra hard later on to catch up proved to myself that I could do it, so I don’t consider that as being a detriment at all. In terms of the way that I have worked over years in academia, I wouldn’t change anything as I worked very hard to publish papers, write grants and be successful.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while transitioning from the academic position into the Medical Affairs position in the industry?
The biggest challenge was learning how to communicate with such a diverse group of people. In an industry position, there’s a good chance that during a meeting you might be the only scientific expert in the room who knows about the mechanism of action of a particular drug. Therefore, you need to communicate effectively and succinctly so that that everyone understands you. Skills that I had acquired during my academic training, including the ability to explain why am I doing something, how can it be done and what knowledge could be gained from it, translated very well into my current position and apply to almost any job. If you apply these skills, you will be successful.
What advice do you have for new graduates looking for postdoctoral jobs? Should they work in the field similar to their PhD or branch out to a new research area?
One of the key things is to publish as much as you can. Publishing is not only important for academia, but also for industry. It doesn’t matter if it is a different therapeutic area. Publications show that you designed a study, worked on the project, brought it to a conclusion and championed your ideas via the peer-review process. This is very important, especially with respect to Medical Affairs jobs. Participate in various conferences, mixers, workshops and networking events such as the career mentoring event organized by TCP division at Experimental Biology conference. Develop a good mentor-mentee relationship and talk to lots of different people for getting tips for jobs. Learn as much as you can during PhD and apply your knowledge and skillsets in different areas during postdoctoral position. Do a productive postdoc to get into the industry, as you get to publish, learn and network more during your postdoc position. In terms of working in a field similar to their PhD or branching out to a new research area, the important thing in a postdoc is to continue to develop professionally. If you wish to stay in the same field, learn new techniques that can ask and answer different questions. If you want to move to a new field, try to apply the technique from your PhD to ask new questions in that area.
What are some entry level jobs in your field of work? What is the typical background of people who are hired in this entry level jobs?
A few of the entry levels jobs in my field of work include Manager level positions in Medical Affairs, Pharmacovigilance, Clinical Sciences and Medical Science Liaison roles. Some of the traits required to be successful in industry include excellent communication skills, being able to articulate mechanisms of drug action, knowing product information, communicating with non-scientific folks in a very accurate manner and keeping things simple for everyone to understand. One also needs to have a strong physiology, pharmacology and molecular biology background. Also, I again stress the need to have as many publications as one can, as they also demonstrate effective project management skills.
What major developments do you see in your field over the next 5-10 years? What do you as the best opportunities for young people entering this field?
One of the major developments will be an increase in the electronic way of communication with patients, including industry interaction with physicians. Technology is changing at a fast pace. Many companies are now spending less money themselves developing the very basic parts of drug discovery process. Companies are saving the money usually spent on the early stages of R&D, and applying that to business development activities such as acquisitions or in-licensing. In these situations, much of the ground work in the characterization and development of the compound has already been done and then the company continues with rest of the product development. This opens up the opportunities for graduates and postgraduates to start their career with smaller start-up companies, with the knowledge that such job may not last their entire career. The advantages, though, are that you will be working on the development of a compound at a very exciting time. Later on, opportunities could either arise in a bigger company that buys the start-up or you can move on to a different position with the experience gained.
What advice do you have for students aspiring to work in the industry, especially medical affairs?
During your time in academia, work very hard, participate in a variety of multi-disciplinary committees, gain experience in different therapeutic areas and in communicating with non-science people. It can be useful to take some basic business courses and learn the language of business commercial side. Gaining some clinical experience by collaborating with clinical research departments will be very useful and if you are in clinical research, try to serve on Institutional Review Board committees. These will really strengthen your CV. Take as many courses in writing skills and acquire strong communication skills. Effective communication is the key in Medical Affairs. Look for internship opportunities in Medical Affairs, such as the one which Ferring Pharmaceuticals has started offering recently.
We thank Dr. Beveridge for his time and insights (Interview conducted by Naeem Patil).
Last updated: October 20, 2016