To celebrate British Science Week 2022, we met with alumnus Bhavesh Shah who works as a Medical Affairs Manager in Oncology
British Science Week celebrates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). This year, the national event is running from 11–20 March 2022.
We spoke with two graduates who work within these fields to learn more about their careers and how they make a difference to society. We also asked them to share their advice with graduates and students who might be considering a STEM career.
Bhavesh Shah graduated in 2016 in MPharm (Hons) Pharmacy. Now, he is a qualified pharmacist and works at a pharmaceutical company, Astellas, as a Medical Affairs Manager in Oncology. Within his role, he offers medical and technical expertise to internal and external teams related to medication and therapy areas.
Read his story here:
What does this year’s theme of growth mean to you?
Firstly, it’s personal. My growth means continuing to upskill myself, completing a course I’m currently undertaking and developing my knowledge of the therapy area.
Then, it’s the bigger picture. I would like to see continued growth in innovative ideas used to identify unmet medical needs, aid existing treatments and therapies, and tackle current health challenges – ultimately bringing benefit to patients. We should not be looking at medication as the sole option for treatment. We should be researching and investing in technology as well as education to supplement novel and existing treatment options – helping to redefine patient care.
Tell us about your University experience and journey since graduating?
I had a great experience at the University both academically and socially. Aside from being Vice President of the Portsmouth Pharmacy Students’ Association, I also played on the dodgeball team, helped launch a health promotion campaign and assisted in setting up peer-assisted study sessions within the School of Pharmacy. I also made a number of friends who have all gone on to do great things.
I'm now a qualified pharmacist with experience in all three major sectors of pharmacy (community, hospital and industry). Following graduation, I spent 3 years working in various pharmacist roles in a central London hospital. Shortly after, I was offered a position on the Regulatory Affairs Future Leaders Programme at GSK, a two-year accelerated programme tailored to developing practical experience, leadership skills and learning agility. This helped me understand ways of working in the corporate sector which was invaluable, and it also helped position me to move into the role I am in now.
I'm currently working as a Medical Affairs Manager in Oncology. No two days are ever the same. On top of meetings and email admin, part of the role involves working closely with the brand teams (including commercial, market access and regulatory affairs). This helps to implement the strategic plan and acting as the expert for scientific data related to our medications. The role also involves hosting and attending conferences, reviewing submissions to health agencies who approve medications for use, liaising with external therapy area experts and providing training and data briefings to the sales teams.
I’m also currently undertaking a course to become a Medical Final Signatory. Promotion of pharmaceutical products and information is heavily regulated and pharmaceutical companies must follow a code of practice. Final signatories ensure that the standards and requirements set out within the code of practice are adhered to. This qualification will allow me to review and approve promotional and non-promotional materials such as advertisements, detail aids used by sales teams and disease awareness campaigns. It’s important for my development as it provides me with more responsibility within the business. Undertaking the course also keeps me motivated as I have a goal to aim towards.
My favourite thing about the job is seeing the positive impact our medicines are having on patients. Whilst my previous roles provided me with more direct patient contact, I have been able to reach a larger patient population through my current role. Seeing and hearing about the improvements we have made to patients’ lives is incredibly rewarding.
Then there’s the most challenging part of my role – although it’s one of the most interesting too – staying up to date with developments in the therapy area. There is so much going on within the oncology space, it can be hard to keep up, especially when you have other workload priorities. The key is to set aside protected time to look into these developments, speak to colleagues about interesting articles and journals they have come across, and review new clinical trial data when it becomes available.
What does the future look like within oncology?
In the short-term future, we'll be focused on helping the NHS find ‘missing patients’ who are currently living with cancers and may be unaware. Due to the pandemic, there are a number of patients that were either unable to be seen by healthcare professionals, or were hesitant to come into hospital for appointments. This was due to the risk of getting COVID-19. Identifying these patients is really important as we’re unfortunately seeing patients diagnosed with cancer at later stages of the disease. Late diagnosis limits treatment options and can have negative impacts on quality of life or life expectancy.
In the long-term, I think there is going to be a focus on digital health but it is difficult to say what this will look like. We already have great examples of digital developments making medicine and healthcare more accessible. For example, some face-to-face appointments (where appropriate) have been replaced by video calls, smart watches are capable of monitoring things like heart rate and blood pressure, and smartphone apps are already being used to support patients in numerous ways.
The opportunities with digital health are endless – especially as general access to technology has increased and such a large population of the public are now 'tech-savvy'. We do however need to be mindful that digital technology is susceptible to being hacked and blackouts or downtime can also cause issues. So this may limit the developments in this space.
What advice would you give to students or graduates who are thinking of working in STEM?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your career, just because you studied as a doctor, pharmacist, or an engineer, it doesn't mean you have to work within one specified field – it’s about using and transferring the skill sets you have gained.
Look for work experience opportunities, network (LinkedIn is great for this) and don’t stop developing yourself. Lastly, set yourself ambitious goals, find a mentor and offer to be a mentor to others as you progress with your career.