AstraZeneca – ‘together we make a molecule a medicine’

AstraZeneca is a UK based pharmaceutical company aimed at using scientific research to offer patients life changing treatments. Yesterday, thanks to the SMF programme, I was able to attend an AstraZeneca masterclass at their HQ in Luton. The day involved a series of talks given by a range of AstraZeneca employees, explaining what their role involves and hence their contribution to AstraZeneca.

In the medical profession, although we make use of multiple drugs in order to treat patients, we rarely get a chance to understand the process of how drug gets ‘from bench to bedside’. However fortunately in attending this event I was able to get an idea of the bigger picture.

One of the activities yesterday involved working in teams to draw up the journey the drug takes to become a medicine. The process begins with the discovery of the molecule then it is followed by preclinical trials, early phase trials followed by phase 3 trials and then the need for regulation and funding by NICE. The activity taught me that at every aspect of the journey an obstacle presents itself which undoubtedly impedes the process of getting the drug to the patients. It explains the following statistics: only 1/100 drugs developed are taken to market and on average it takes 14 years with a cost of around £700 million to ensure that it does so successfully. However, whilst doing this activity I realised that when looking at the journey on a broad spectrum, it is so easy to forget the professionals at each stage of the pathway who make the whole process possible in the first place. From the researchers, to the manufacturers, the sale representatives all the way to the directors/leads, their input ensures the drug is able to make it to the next stage even if it is not guaranteed. As the AstraZeneca team very nicely put it ‘together we make a molecule a medicine’ – a great ethos to stand by, clearly emphasizing the need for teamwork and communication.

Today the NHS faces many challenges: an ageing population, high birth rates, increasing effect of lifestyle factors on diseases, change in public expectation and even a change in the healthcare structure, which has meant pharmaceutical companies have had to adapt their approach to marketing their drug in order to accommodate the current system. Previously, healthcare professionals would have more time to meet up with pharmaceutical sale representatives for face-to-face meetings about the new drugs on the market and hence then would proceed to decide whether they would want to invest or not. However due to the increasing challenges the NHS faces, today doctors do not have time and therefore companies have become heavily reliant on online media in order to to sell their product. This involves the use of email subscriptions, phone calls or webinars to ensure the clinicians are kept up to date with new treatment. As these pharmaceutical companies are continuously working on adapting their approach to accommodate a form of communication that is best for the medical field, it ensures that the NHS is always able to provide a range of treatments for their patients.

Regardless of the fact that the masterclass was solely based on the way a pharmaceutical company works and the different roles within it, it was still very useful to attend. From a medical perspective, it has made me appreciate how this strong network of committed and hard working individuals, who also have the patients’ best interest at heart, ensure there are new forms of life changing treatment available. Without the input of the pharmaceutical industry, my role as a future doctor would not be possible.

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