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Alex Ashall Kelly

Research chemist for Novartis

"I am now working for Novartis in London. I‘m working in drug discovery at the GDC there, which is fantastic and exactly what I want to do"
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Rob Wilson

Project management and technology transfer

Rob Wilson studied Chemistry from 1992 to 1998, completing his PhD with Prof. Chris Rayner. Since graduation his career has continuously involved both process chemistry and the "business of science", which he has found incredibly rewarding. Below he discusses the knowledge and skills developed during his undergraduate and postgraduate studies which he has repeatedly drawn on during his career:

“After 8 years spent in various process-development, project- and business-management roles at Avecia Pharmaceuticals (now Piramal Healthcare - a technology-driven Contract R&D and pharmaceutical manufacturing company) I moved to Codexis - a Californian Biotechnology company specializing in the directed evolution of micro-organisms to produce enzymes for biocatalytic chemical manufacturing. Specifically I have been involved in the establishment of a new-build R&D centre in Singapore, where I am now based, in a project management and technology transfer capacity.

In an industry experiencing increasing cost pressure to minimize R&D expenditure, and speed up delivery of products to the market place, whilst maintaining patient safety, process chemistry has a critical role. For delivery of efficient, cost-effective and, most of all, well-understood and robust chemical processes, a thorough understanding across many areas of chemistry (organic synthesis & reaction mechanism, thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, analytical chemistry, and basic chemical engineering principles) is essential.

Effectively delivering high quality pharmaceutical materials on a tight timeframe can be both a pressurized and a very rewarding experience. It involves interdisciplinary teamwork, project management, and dealing effectively with risk and uncertainty - often making decisions based on less-than-optimal information.

Negotiating commercial terms in this climate cannot be done without a detailed understanding of the science, and the risks/benefits it brings with it, so chemists with a wide-ranging skill-set and a pragmatic approach to science (and to life in general) are an essential part of a successful business in the pharmaceutical industry.

I am motivated by the fact that so far I have managed to stay at the interface between business and science - sometimes involved in the minute details of an analytical trace or a chemistry mechanism, and then the next day travelling to India to manage projects and business relationships the other side of the world.

Never a true academic at heart, I have, however, always really enjoyed understanding and solving complex problems, and did feel from early on in my career at Avecia that Leeds Uni had armed me with many of the tools I required to make a successful career in industry - from the undergrad days, getting a comprehensive background in the basic scientific knowledge required, and then taken to another level during postgrad studies with Chris Rayner, where as much of the learning is about managing yourself, prioritization, decision-making, and dealing effectively with others, as it is continuing to sharpen your technical understanding.

I hope that the Chemical Process and Research Development MSc course at Leeds will inspire people who perhaps (like me) feel that the far-academic end of chemistry is not for them, that there is an incredibly rewarding career available for people who love science, but are motivated as much by its application as by the invention that is essential to its continued development."