Synapse Review

Chiasma held its annual Biotech Career Expo at the Engineering School, The University of Auckland on the 7th August. The night attracted a crowd of 250 strong including a mixture of student , facutly heads and stuff and industry representatives including Joe Rouse from Pioneer Capital Partners, Greg Whittred ( the new Dean of UoA Business School) and Simon Yarrow, Encoate.

Rebecca Sanders kicked off the presentations by providing an insight into an alternative career in science, with a role in a government funding body, the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology. Like most of the speakers, Rebecca experienced a pivotal changing point in her career where she deviated in her traditional science path. With no previous experience in the field, Rebecca took up an opportunity in London with JPMorgan as a banker. It was this experience that lead her to her current role involving a fusion of both her science and finance backgrounds.

Unfortunately Dr. David Saul , ZyGEM’s principle and founding scientist was unable to make it. However Duncan Kay, ZyGEMs recently appointed Business Manager, was thankfully able to step in at such late notice. With a bioscience background Duncan too deviated from the scientist path and has since established a strong background in marketing and sales. He highlighted some of the realities (high and lows) of NZ’s biotech/ pharma job industry while also advocating the field of biotools as an ‘untapped’ area that could hold some value if NZ was to branch out into it. This is backed up by his extensive experience in the field. He even refers to Invitrogen as the L’Oreal of biotech. ZyGEM utilises its propriety library of extremophilic microorganisms to isolate novel enzymes with commercial applications.

Next up, Dr Andrew Kelly ( BioPacific Ventures) reviewed his career path by reliving it from positive and negative views. From the ‘pressured’ decision to pursue veterinary science and working with AgResearch to creating New Zealands first biotech (life science) specific VC fund. BPV specialises in the areas of health & wellbeing and nutrition with investments in range of Australian and NZ companies such as CMP Therapeutics/ Anzamune, Vital Foods, Keratec, Encoate and Novotech. BPV was set up in 2005 and manages a $100mil fund. Andrew closed with a memorable quote ” Luck is where opportunity meets preparation”.

Michelle Lockhart ( Project manager – Antipodean Pharmaceuticals) who has a solid background in pharma regulatory systems (particularly in the UK), highlighted how small biotechs/ pharma can use contacting to outsource alot of development including clinical trials. For example antipodean use Douglas Pharmacetuicals and IRL for upscaling product volume and tablet formulation. Michelle proved to be a great inspiration for many pharmacy students in the audience, who previously had little knowledge of careers outside the typical student to pharmacist path. Antipodean is commercializing MitoQ, a mitochondrial antioxidant for inflammatory disorders of the liver caused by oxidative stress.

The presentations were concluded with a Q&A panel. My question to the panel was what fields of science do the speakers predict to be hot for the future. The unsurprising popular answer was clean/green technology – an area that has received large scale investment not only internationally but also within NZ ( e.g. Lanzatechs NZ$12million from FRST this year). Michelle broadened this to mention that any innovative science has a place. Duncan provided a supporting example in the UK – a spray that removes chewing gum from sidewalks http://www.getridofgum.com/. In a following question the speakers highlighted the importance of networking, maintaining networks and power of making a phone call (both which I persistently advocate to my colleagues).

Some good closing words for how to succeed in your career – Luck, Prepare, Create Opportunities.

Click here [543Kb] to download the content from the Career Display that I compiled for the night. The idea behind this display was to provide a series of examples of potential career paths for students with different backgrounds by highlighting currently available national and international job positions in biotech/pharma companies and the required skills/ qualities and qualifications needed.

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