Explore the science behind pharmacy

Mark McAllisterThis article was first published on Tomorrow's Pharmacist.

RPS member Mark McAllister shares his experience of a career in industry.

What was your first contact with pharmacy as a profession?

It was at a school careers fair. I remember talking to a Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland member who had come to promote pharmacy. I was interested in the variety of careers pharmacy could lead to.

Where did you do your preregistration training?

I was accepted onto a six-month placement at SmithKline Beecham (in the clinical trials manufacturing group) and spent the second six months at St George’s hospital in Tooting.

As a student I did a summer placement — with the help of the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience scheme — at the Sandoz research institute in Vienna. I spent two months learning protein purification and western blotting techniques. This helped me to decide to split my preregistration year between industry and hospital pharmacy.

How were your early years of practice?

My first job, after completing a PhD in liposomal delivery to the lung, was at Hoechst-Roussel in Swindon as a formulation scientist. I worked on silicone intra-vaginal rings for hormone delivery.

I soon moved to SmithKline Beecham as a formulator for protein products but as a result of the merger that formed GlaxoSmithKline I found myself in a drug delivery role. This was my introduction to biopharmaceutics, which has now become my specialist area of interest — looking back it is funny to think that much of this was down to chance.

What is your current role and how did you get there?

I spent around 13 years at GSK in a variety of roles. The drug delivery group I first worked in evolved into a strategic technologies department, which developed platform drug delivery technologies for a broad application to what was then the GSK portfolio.

I led the development of Flextab technology, a novel multi-compartment capsule system that provides multiple release profiles by linking together shells of different compositions. I learnt a lot about polymer processing, filling technologies and how to advance these novel systems into clinical studies.

I eventually joined Pfizer as the leader of the drug delivery group in its research formulation department. I have since moved from supporting discovery teams in early development to leading post-proof-of-concept programmes in phase IIb/phase III development.

There is a host of opportunities to develop my knowledge of late-stage product development, and formulation and biopharmaceutics are still very much part of my job.

Externally, I am a visiting senior lecturer at King’s College London where I contribute to the drug delivery and biopharmaceutics modules for final year pharmacy and MSc students.

Of which achievement are you most proud?

I remember my excitement when I developed a stable liposomal formulation for polymyxin as part of my PhD, and showed that this had promise in prolonging lung residence time. (I was trying to develop a formulation that reduced the frequency of nebulised antibiotics for cystic fibrosis.)

I also initiated a collaboration with an external company and GSK to use human intestinal tissues to measure drug permeability. Seeing the impact of this proved to me that, even as a junior scientist, I could make a difference in a large pharmaceutical company.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I am excited by my involvement with the Oral Biopharmaceutics Tools project — ORBITO. This collaborative project, from the Innovative Medicines Initiative, combines industrial biopharmaceutics expertise from major pharmaceutical companies with academic centres of excellence, specialist technology providers and a regulatory agency.

As deputy scientific co­­-ordinator for the project, I hope to be able to help this initiative achieve its goals and contribute to the development of new scientific knowledge for oral drug delivery.

In a world without pharmacy, what career would you pursue?

If I had to choose again, I would have enjoyed a career in the booming computer industry of the mid-to-late 1980s — but I think my dream job would be flying for the Battle of Britain memorial flight team.

Mark McAllister, PhD, MRPharmS, is a research fellow in drug product design at Pfizer

Read more articles on pharmacy careers on The Pharmaceutical Journal.

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