So much more than Aspirin…a study visit at Bayer

Discussions are intense as Ben Armstrong, Jennifer Bold and Alan Meyer from Drug Discovery and Preclinical Development at Ygeia, a US based pharma company focusing on oncology, are discussing the potential in four different drug candidates. Their patent is running out and they have new compounds in different stages to work with but budgets are limited and some competitors are already putting their candidates into Clinical Phase III trials. Time is flying and after a short coffee break another two years have passed and the situation has changed…

Students, PhD students and postdocs from Karolinska Institutet (KI) are deeply engaged in a drug simulation workshop developed by Bayer  in Germany. Hosted by Kerstin Crusius-Millert from Communications in Berlin, they are experiencing what could be true scenarios in a drug development process in an imaginary pharma company. The participants are given names, assigned roles and divided into seven different departments. They receive instructions in three stages, each stage symbolizing a two year period. Nothing is right or wrong but the role play makes them understand the difficulties in weighting risk, results and budget together and how many functions that really are needed to develop a new drug. Or in short, it is just as complex as described in the animated Bayer movie on the 8 steps to find a cure for a disease.

Thanks to Hovsep Mahdessian, PhD from KI and Medical Science Liaison at Bayer since January 2017, Career Service and 27 participants from KI are on a study visit at Bayer’s Scandinavian pharma headquarters in Solna/Stockholm. Hovsep represented Bayer at the KI Career Fair CHaSE in March this year, and that is when the idea was born to invite interested students and researchers to the company. Hovsep presented the idea to his manager, Alexander Mata, to HR and Communications and soon the idea had turned into Bayer Day.  Hovsep wanted to share what life science outside academia could be like and Bayer’s interest in interacting with talents made it a win-win project.

Henrik Wulff, Managing director/Head of Bayer Pharmaceuticals Scandinavia welcomes us. He has been 18 years with Bayer and has literally travelled the world with the company developing and setting up new offices. “What do you know about Bayer?”, Henrik first asks.  “Aspirin” is the answer from many people in the room. Aspirin is indeed one of Bayer’s flagship products being on the market for more than 100 years. But Bayer is more than just Aspirin. With a company history of more than 150 years they have the vision to become the largest life science company in the world.  They hold a strong position as the 11th most innovative company 2016. The company mission “Science for a better life” says it all. They put a lot more into life than just human health as they cover also the wellbeing of animals and plants. Henrik is passionate about his work and really convincing, he says “I could sell anything. But we do not sell Coca-Cola or hamburgers… I am proud waking up and doing good!”

When Hovsep takes us for a tour around the offices he is eager to point out the fact that it is “just offices and no labs” but “still this is where the magic happens”. Open, airy and light offices and open doors give the impression that it is a very collegial atmosphere. Later in the afternoon representatives in managerial positions from seven different departments in the office present their responsibilities to give the visitors a better picture of potential career paths and how life science companies work. The Bayer Career app is a great source for more information on careers in the company.

Tiago Pinheiro, a PhD student was struck by the fact that there is so much interaction between departments. “You have to be much more of a team player than I thought” he said afterwards at the coffee mingle where the students could network with staff and ask more questions. Shahin Ainehband*, postdoc alumnus, who as part of the program presented his own research on multiple sclerosis to the Bayer staff and the participants, as a simulation of an MSL presentation for customer, was very pleased with the day “It has been very inspirational. Bayer could serve as a role model to other companies. It is important to interact with talents and this could be beneficial for both”.

Grateful for the opportunity Career Service is hoping for further collaborations. Facilitating contact between academia and industry and offering first hand career inspiration is when we feel that “magic happens” in our field of work.

Thank you Hovsep and Bayer.

*by the time this article was published, Shahin was offered and accepted a position as an MSL at Bayer.

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