We are kicking off August with another interview! This time, we spoke with one of our MCPHS/Sanofi Genzyme 2nd year fellows, Jordan Messer, who is currently training in Global Medical Affairs. Find out how he learned about industry and what he’s been up to over the past year. Plus, he shares some advice on what fellowships look for in candidates, and how he prepared to apply.
What attracted you to industry?
Well I guess for me personally, in industry you get opportunities to learn about therapeutic areas that aren’t really covered in pharmacy school. I’m really into rare diseases and more specialized conditions that we don’t really cover extensively, if at all, in school. So I think the opportunity to learn and just broaden my horizons about medical knowledge in general is one thing that attracted me to industry. Second, just the diversity of the people you get to work with—I work with physicians, MDs, PhDs, PharmDs, business people with MBAs. I think just being exposed to all different types of people with different backgrounds is really something that appealed to me.
Something else is being able to build a global professional network. Obviously this depends on what kind of role you’re in, but in my role I get to interact with people around the world from the company, internally and externally—so people inside and outside the company. That was one of my goals going into the fellowship—build more of a global network and travel internationally is something I get to do as well.
What types of students do you think would be a good fit for going into industry? For example, people who are looking for certain experiences or looking for certain skills, how would you describe that type of person?
I think you have to be willing never to stop learning because therapeutic areas are constantly changing. There’s constantly new research and data coming out. You have to really be passionate about it because there is so much information, like I mentioned. Things move very, very fast, so you have to be adaptable. And given the level of people you have to interact with on a day to day basis, just being able to communicate. I know it sounds really cliché, but just being able to communicate clearly and be ready to change at any time. It’s a fast moving industry, and people who are quick learners, good communicators and are adaptable would definitely be successful in industry.
You mentioned therapeutics a couple times—could you give a brief summary of your fellowship position at Sanofi Genzyme?
I work in Global Medical Affairs for our Multiple Sclerosis (MS) therapeutics area, and MS is something we had, I believe, a 40-minute lecture on in my entire three years of didactic learning. So, I didn’t really have too much exposure to it. My best friend’s sister does have MS, but other than that, we didn’t really cover it in pharmacy school.
We develop a lot of medical education materials, and these can be internally used or externally used. For example, an internal medical education piece could be directed towards people in marketing or commercial who don’t necessarily have the medical background that someone like a PharmD, or PhD, or MD has—making them aware of the latest developments in the field. External pieces could be directed at healthcare providers—making materials that illustrate or communicate our latest data or publications are big things that we do.
We also organize and develop a lot of our medical oral presentations at congresses. For example, we just had a congress in Los Angeles in April where we recruited four key opinion leaders (KOL) in the MS field. These are really big physicians that publish a lot of research and usually practice at larger, more well-known institutions—we partnered with them, and we created an entire hour and a half symposium on a hot topic in MS. We interfaced a lot with them—the KOLs, physicians, as well as senior leadership.
We also develop a lot of our journal articles that you see in Journal of Neurology, JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine. We develop all those manuscripts that are then published as articles in those types of journals.
What do you find most challenging about your position?
I think coming in, just the barriers—as far as not knowing—I mentioned that I didn’t really know much about MS. I think the learning curve was definitely real for me, and that probably goes for other people who go into areas that aren’t well covered in school. It took a while for me to get my feet wet and learn about the disease state. That was challenging in the beginning.
Moving throughout the first year, I think you just really have to budget your time. A lot of times people ask you to do multiple things at once, or they invite you to all these meetings, and sometimes you just have to say no. There are only so many hours in a day, and you know, when you’re in meetings all the time, it could be difficult to get work done. Sometimes you have to be selective about your time, and it’s something you have to be cognizant of [as a fellow].
You covered some of the “bigger” types of skills. What would you say are the skills required by your position day to day?
Well number one is time management. Especially with our team now, we’re in between international congresses. Being able to handle multiple projects in different areas is something that’s very important—just being flexible and knowing how to interact cross-functionally with people who may not have a medical background. You can’t just be focused on medical all the time. That’s something that can be challenging.
Looking back on your first year, what are some of the lessons learned about being in a fellowship or being a pharmacist in industry?
First of all, at least in my team, in my therapeutic area, PharmDs aren’t all that common. We have a lot of PhDs and MDs, some masters. I mean, I didn’t expect there to be a ton of pharmacists in industry, but you know, that’s something you have to keep in mind—not everyone has the same background as you do. I think—at least coming to my team, where the second year fellow was actually the first PharmD to come to the team. I think they really look to you, because you have a unique perspective on the drugs. And I mean, I’ve definitely gotten questions from my teammates about what do I think about x or y just because I have a different background and knowledge coming from pharmacy. I think that’s something that can be valuable.
So, would you say pharmacists aren’t very present in industry? And, how do you see that changing in the future?
Well I think that depends on the area of the business that you’re in. So in medical affairs, that’s where you’re going to see the most pharmacists. Whereas in commercial, there are probably not as many just because—I feel like the skill set and the education you have is more conducive to being in a medical position. But, there are pharmacists in commercial as well. It’s just that in medical affairs, you’re more likely to see them.
What advice would you give to a prospective applicant/How did you prepare for applying to industry fellowships?
So I think probably the number one thing is to make it known that you do have an interest in going into industry. You know, some students are luckier because they go to schools that have industry connections, which makes it easier to get a rotational opportunity or internship. Even if someone goes to a school where there aren’t those opportunities, there are still ways to make it known to Fellowship Directors and current fellows that you are interested. Whether it’s reaching out to them via email, or setting up a phone call, just knowing that you have some sort of passion about it, I guess, and be able to explain why you want to go into industry, clearly.
That’s something that I was asked. They would say like, “why industry? Why not go into hospitals or retail?” and, you have to be able to have a clear answer and really explain it well.
Jordan Messer, PharmD, is a Global Medical Affairs/Scientific Communications Post-Doctoral fellow with MCPHS University and Sanofi Genzyme.