A Look Into the Pharmaceutical Industry with a Chief Medical Officer

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Session 72

Session 72

In today’s episode, Ryan talks with Dr. Al Sandra, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Development Sciences at Biogen Idec where he oversees clinical development in neurological and immunological diseases, global regulatory affairs, global safety and benefit risk management, global clinical development operations and biometrics.

Today, Al talks about his journey in the pharmaceutical industry, its bad-rap from other physicians, and what you as a premed student can start doing to get some experience in the industry.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Al:

Al’s path to medicine:

  • Al’s initial drive and passion for medicine coming from a family of physicians
  • Attending Stanford University and initially having an interest in psychiatry
  • Working in a lab for a child psychiatrist
  • Applying to Harvard medical school and MD-PhD program
  • Al’s defining moment when his uncle died of heart attack at a young age and sparked his interest in improving medicine

The stigma about premeds that exists up to this day

Strong anti-pharma sentiment: The Dark Side of the Pharma Industry

Al holds the theory of people have the idea of pharma companies being for profit companies are trying to make profits from sick people.

Al’s extensive medical experience:

  • On Al’s residency training: One year of internal medicine & 2 years of neurology
  • Did a fellowship in neuromuscular disease
  • Electromyography training
  • Board certified in neurology and electrodiagnostic medicine
  • Became an instructor in Neurology at Harvard
  • Became assistant professor and started a lab at Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Doing clinical work mixed with laboratory work and teaching

Dipping his toes into the pharma industry:

  • Met a guy who started his own company where he was part of the scientific advisory board building prototypes
  • Getting intrigued by the idea of making products
  • Finding the satisfaction of making products in a team setting
  • Meeting colleagues who moved to the pharma industry who seem to be happy
  • Seeing a Biogen advertisement looking for a neurologist and deciding to apply for it

Response from his colleagues about going to the pharma industry:

  • Many felt he was making a big mistake and one colleague said he’d be undergoing apoptosis (programmed cell death)
  • Others (especially older professors) were supportive of his big leap

Opportunities in the pharma industry for physicians:

  • Fellowship programs
  • Summer internships (laboratory work, clinical trials, etc.)

Opportunities for non-research buffs:

  • Clinical development
  • Drug safety
  • Medical affairs
  • Global regulatory affairs

You may still continue clinical practice even when you’re involved in the pharma industry.

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

  • Follow your passion.
  • Look in your heart and ask yourself what do you really want to do.
  • Don’t worry about what others say.

Links and Other Resources:

If you need any help with the medical school interview, go to medschoolinterviewbook.com. Sign up and you will receive parts of the book so you can help shape the future of the book. This book will include over 500 questions that may be asked during interview day as well as real-life questions, answers, and feedback from all of the mock interviews Ryan has been doing with students.

Are you a nontraditional student? Go check out oldpremeds.org.

For more great content, check out www.mededmedia.com for more of the shows produced by the Medical School Headquarters including the OldPremeds Podcast and watch out for more shows in the future!

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