Curtis Sharma and Lidia Betcheva took up placements at GlaxoSmithKline between November 2019 to June 2020. They gained invaluable skills and experience working outside of academia, bringing an outside perspective to the GSK team which helped shape the project results.

Project #1: Validate a Discrete Event Simulation Model to estimate capacity for new Oral Solid Dose factories

Curtis Sharma was tasked with researching the best modes and mediums to create and curate a knowledge repository for GSK Engineering projects. He also looked into the benefits of using data in the public domain to avoid or address supply chain disruptions worldwide.

Giovanni Giorgio, Senior Digital Engineer at GlaxoSmithKline who supervised the project gave us some useful feedback in his evaluation:

“As one of the factories is for New Product Introduction (NPI) the model fitted strategically with the innovation agenda of the company. This type of validation required an objective and rigorous approach. The student brought a diverse way of thinking and approached the validation project with an external view. It helped to have someone from a different background considerably, as in order to explain the problem/activities we were trying to do we had to break it down and simplify. By doing so we realised potential flaws in our approach.”

Curtis Sharma added “The experience is invaluable and will broaden your prospects, skills, and general outlook. A PhD can appear to be unrewarding, and taking up a placement and taking it seriously brought me significant satisfaction that was missing from my PhD”

Project #2: Project title: R&D portfolio visualisation and simulation

Lidia Betcheva worked with the team on its project goal to develop a model that simulates and provides end-to-end visibility of asset dynamics in a planning horizon.

This was done to build an understanding of the complexity in long-term portfolio decision-making and aid users with strategic decisions. Towards the end of the fellowship , the team worked on tailoring the model in accordance to internal stakeholder requirements (e.g., linking the asset portfolio with human resource planning).

Lidia gave us her own account of her learnings from the placement:

“One the aims of the fellowship was to combine industrial and practical knowledge with academic research and methodologies to create a model that provides users with tools that aid their decision making. This involved looking into the features, complexities, and problems of the pharmaceutical landscape, analysing and comparing the methodologies employed in pharmaceutical pipeline management and developing a conceptualization of the dynamic and interdependent asset pipeline.   

The model and its value propositions were pitched to several internal stakeholders and possible users. These decision-makers expressed interest in the model and highlighted how the model can be utilized in the context they work in. Towards the end of my fellowship , we worked with one main stakeholder to adapt the model for two problems of interest. I believe the fact that various (and diverse) teams have an interest in the model demonstrates its value and that ultimate aim of the fellowship was met.  

The main advantage of this fellowship was having first-hand visibility into the decisions facing R&D teams. I really enjoyed learning about the processes related to clinical development, the various stakeholders involved and the difficulties they face in their operations. This was particularly useful as one of my PhD projects is concerned with pharmaceutical partnerships in clinical trials. This fellowship has not only reinforced my research interest in the pharmaceutical sector but has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the industry and has sparked additional research ideas. 

In the beginning of my fellowship , Giovanni walked me through the set-up of pipeline development in GSK. He also demonstrated previous models he had worked on which allowed me to see what kind of concepts and data is used as well as what are the inputs and outputs important for decision-makers. Throughout the fellowship , though discussions with the team and information provided by potential model users, I learned many intricacies regarding clinical development, manufacturing, and other operations in the company. I believe this contextual understanding will help me in my future research in the healthcare domain. 

One of the key outputs of the project is a high-level, comprehensive model pitch that can be shared with various stakeholders throughout the company. We also worked on model adaptations that employed methodologies such as optimization to address specific user requirements. I believe that my impact can be measured through the contributions I have made regarding the research I conducted related to the context and methodologies, presentations/visuals which I prepared, and the development of optimization “sub-models”. 

Through various in-depth discussions with the team, I learned the processes and complexities involved in decision-making in a pharmaceutical company. This allowed me to have insights into the trade-offs which stakeholders face. This is directly transferrable to my modeling work for my research. In addition, I focused on and refined my presentation skills. I learned that presentations for a non-academic audience are quite different from those for academics (typically detailing methodologies and literature), and this required me to think deeply about how best to frame ideas and highlight value propositions. 

The team had diverse backgrounds in engineering and manufacturing. I also learned from internal stakeholders from different teams such as technology and clinical development. I think this was very useful since it allowed me to see things from different perspectives and gain insights as to the key challenges they face. Building an all-encompassing view of the pipeline was important so that the model can be adaptable as well as to ensure to the model can help avoid siloed-decision-making.   Through familiarity of existing academic literature on the context, I was able to discuss and incorporate strategies, challenges, and risks in the pharmaceutical supply chain into the model/presentation. I also did a literature review to identify and compare methodologies employed in pharmaceutical portfolio management. Moreover, I employed optimization techniques to develop “sub-models” for specific problems.

I recommend applying to the scheme especially if applicants have an interest in a particular industry/sector/project. I believe that as an academic, it is very important to ensure research is impactful and informed. I think having a practical and first-hand experience facilitates knowledge transfer from academia to practice, and vice versa. My advice is to use the experience as a learning opportunity and ask many questions in order to develop a practitioner’s perspective.I have learned a lot from the fellowship , and it was also very nice to “step outside” academic projects as part of the PhD and work on something different.”  


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