I am a Process Chemist in the Technical Development Department in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Cork. GSK is one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, with offices in over 100 countries and major research centres in the UK, USA, Belgium and China. Here in Cork, we develop and manufacture the active ingredients of medical compounds for both clinical and commercial use. We are currently the primary production site for a number of GSK’s top selling drugs which treat illnesses such as depression, Type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, HIV, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis. We have a highly automated manufacturing facility, as well as an R&D pilot plant with pilot plant laboratories on site.
I studied science for my junior cert and then chemistry and biology for my leaving cert. Even at that stage, I had a natural flair for the subject; I was interested in how science could directly benefit people and in exploring the application of science in medicine. I then decided to study Biological and Chemical Science in UCC because I was looking for a subject area that was diverse enough to give me a choice of career while being specific enough to give me a taste of biology and chemistry. I also chose it because it incorporated a work placement for three months at the end of third year, which would help me realise what I wanted to do afterwards.
I did my work placement in GSK, which really helped me understand the importance of what I’d learnt in day to day operations. I really enjoyed the experience, and the positive and dynamic environment it presented and so applied to work with GSK when I graduated. As a Process Chemist, I am responsible for ensuring that the quality and yield of the product is maintained at the highest level. This is quite a wide ranging role, and I get to interact with people across the organisation from operations who are involved in the day to day running of the site, to engineers who are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the plant and managers and colleagues. Quality is a critical parameter when you’re discussing pharmaceutical manufacturing, so I also work closely with quality control on site to ensure that all documentation surrounding the site is up to date.
When I come in each morning, I check what happened with the processes overnight, and see if there were any issues, and the yields reported. I monitor what’s happening in the plant in real time from my desk through an advanced software package. Armed with that information I then attend a production meeting which is also attended by representatives from across the site. At this meeting, I inform my colleagues of any information I think would be useful for them to use, and they also share relevant information with me. If there’s any chemistry issues, I work to identify the problem and formulate a solution through discussion with colleagues, etc. If there are no issues, I work on other longer term projects to improve our processes etc. Safety is a priority on site and I work closely with all of the teams to ensure that every process running is always operated safely.
I love my job because just as no two chemical reactions are the same, no two days are the same. I’m always meeting new challenges and have new opportunities to grow and develop. They all combine together to make it a fascinating role. It is also challenging because a certain amount of chemistry will always be difficult to fully characterise thus providing an opportunity to apply my own theoretical knowledge to complement the diverse skill sets of colleagues in production, quality or engineering in order to engage fully with the problem and determine the best solution collectively. I would advise anyone who’s considering a career in the pharmaceutical industry to talk to others who are working in this area, and find out beforehand whether the area you’re interested in requires a PhD or can be carried out after receiving a bachelor’s degree as that can influence your course choice.
GSK is a positive, challenging and rigorous environment in which you’re inspired to put forward new ideas. There are also many opportunities in Ireland to further your career in this area. The skills that you need to be successful in the pharmaceutical industry such as the ability to assess new ways of doing things, using creativity and imagination are transferrable across other industries. It really is an excellent career path to explore, full of personal enrichment.