Physician-Industry Relationships: Roles for Physicians Part 2

 In Part One of my article,

I reviewed positions available to dermatologists within the pharmaceutical industry and shared advice on how one could explore these opportunities.

For Part Two, I interviewed my friend and colleague, Dr. Anca Debu, who shared her experience as a dermatologist working for a mid-sized pharmaceutical company over the past 18 months.

JJ: What drove your decision to work in industry?

AD: After finishing my residency in dermatology, I worked as a dermatologist for five years in a university hospital as well as in private practice. I have always been attracted to research and finding new treatments for dermatologic conditions. The idea of working in an international research environment was very exciting, and when I was offered a position as a medical expert for a pharmaceutical company focused on dermatology, I knew it was right for me.

JJ: Describe a typical day working as a medical expert.

AD: As a medical expert working in early drug development, my daily activities focus on designing and implementing Phase I clinical studies. These are mainly “proof of mechanism” and “proof of concept” trials for new drugs under development. Medical expertise is sought even in the earliest stages of development. My involvement in a project starts at inception when I will often collaborate with the research team. We define possible indications for a new molecule based on its mechanism of action.

From there, an indication will be chosen and my role as medical expert shifts towards creating the clinical trial design. And writing the protocol for the very first studies in humans, all the while taking into account the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties of the drug substance and formulation. The goal is to design the most efficient and cost effective trial possible. In order to determine whether the molecule does what it is intended to do.

Throughout the clinical trial, I am involved in it’s daily administration, keeping in close contact with investigators in order to address any medical issues that may arise and working together with my pharmacovigilance colleagues to analyze early safety results. Lastly, as a trial reaches its end I work closely with the company statisticians, to interpret the study data. In the end, as a team we analyze the study results and give a recommendation to further the drug substance development or not. Finally, as a medical expert in industry, I serve as a liaison between the company and key opinion leaders. Through outside consultancies and advisory boards, I get to work closely with world renowned experts in dermatology to seek their advise on product development and to help us better understand disease pathology, treatment and patient needs.

JJ:How has your background as a dermatologist contributed to your current work as a medical expert?

AD: My medical background and experience in dermatology have proven invaluable to my current work in pharma. My fundamental understanding of disease and my experience in practice give me a unique understanding of physician and patient needs. My training and experiences have also given me the curiosity and willingness to learn and evolve that is so important when embarking on new projects.

JJ:What new things have you learned?

AD: Working for a pharmaceutical company made me better understand the complex processes. And the huge human and material resources needed for the development of a drug.

JJ: Do you miss practicing dermatology?

AD: Of course, as I really enjoyed working with patients. However, through a special arrangement, I am lucky to continue practicing dermatology one day per week.

JJ: What advice would you give to a dermatologist interested in industry?

AD: Working for a pharmaceutical company can be an interesting and dynamic experience for dermatologists interested in research. Companies value your expertise very much! For those not ready or willing to give up clinical practice, I recommend working out an arrangement to continue clinical practice. Even if just part-time or once weekly as I do. Not only does this allow me to continue with patient interaction, which I love. But it also keeps me updated on patient care and practice, which is relevant to my work in pharma.