Life sciences consulting is complex, because apart from business skills like strategic thinking, problem solving and communication, knowledge about disease areas and the drug development process is also very crucial.

Mahazabeen Sayyed, our next pathbreaker, Associate Consultant at Blue Matter, a boutique consulting firm, works on diverse projects to support pharma companies in decisions related to Business and R&D strategy.

Mahazabeen talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the diversity of her work ranging from market study and competitive analysis to research on diseases, genetics and biomarkers.

For students, a career in pharma consulting has the potential to influence the decision of major pharma companies, which can bring in a significant change in a patient’s life through novel treatment options. 

Mahazabeen, can you take us through your background?

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, Maharashtra. My mother is a school teacher, and my father is a businessman. I was very much interested in science, specifically biology as a subject. For my mother, education was the priority, and she made sure my siblings and I were very focused. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did a Bachelor’s in Medical Biotechnology from Amity University, Noida. It was a well-designed curriculum focused on human biology, microbiology, genetic engineering, and other interesting subjects.

After graduation, I did my MBA in Hospital and Healthcare Management from Symbiosis University, Pune. 

What were the influences that led you on such an offbeat and unconventional this career?

As I was growing up, I realized my interest in science and decided to pursue a course that can help prevent or cure threatening life diseases. So, after looking at all the career choices, I decided to do medicine. However, before my medical entrance exam results were released, I visited my family doctor and discussed my career options. He recommended biotechnology and briefed me about the course as his daughter was pursuing a similar study in London. I was interested, and I googled a lot to learn more about biotechnology. Finally, I did a bachelor’s course specializing in Medical Biotechnology as the course had the right amount of exposure to human anatomy, diseases, and genetic engineering. I took up cancer biology as my elective and did my internship focusing on cancer research at Tata Memorial Centre-ACTREC during my graduation. It was a great experience, as I was working on an oral cancer project, which involved handling animal models and detecting cancer early. Overall, it was a good learning experience, and while working on this internship project, I realized I had managerial, analytical, problem-solving, and people management skills. So, I decided to do an MBA and improve these skills. Throughout this journey, my parents have been the key influencers, and the mentors from Tata Memorial Hospital have supported me and guided me in making some of the significant career decisions.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

After my post-graduation, I joined Apollo Hospitals (a multi-speciality hospital) and worked for the IT team in the hospital. Some of my job responsibilities included increasing the electronic medical record (EMR) adoption, resolving the issues in the EMR based on the physician’s feedback, etc. It was a good experience, but the job profile did not match my vision. 

So, I decided to pursue a different job opportunity, and I interviewed for my first pharma consulting job at ZS. The types of projects this consulting company did was fascinating. ZS is a professional services firm that works with companies to help develop and deliver products that drive customer value and company results. They are focused on developing innovative healthcare solutions to improve health outcomes. I was a Knowledge Management Associate with the Research and Development team in ZS. As a team, we worked on deriving solutions for various problems such as developing tools to accelerate clinical trials and using digital science like AI/ML techniques to advance the drug pipeline. We also worked on projects to generate competitive insights for our clients based on the drug pipeline, market landscape analysis, etc. During my tenure at ZS, I got the opportunity to be a part of a Biomarker Intelligence project, it mainly focused on biomarkers currently used across different therapy areas and how they can be leveraged to advance clinical drug development. I received a “Project Champion Award- Innovation of the Year” award for all my contributions to this project. The overall learning from this project was reforming. 

After completing about two and a half years, I joined another firm “Blue Matter Consulting”. 

How did you get your first break?

Joining Apollo Hospitals was my first break after completing my post-graduation. This was not a college placement; I approached the HR team multiple times to get them to consider my application. After a month, I was interviewed for the IT executive position, and I was selected after two rounds of interviews. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Moving to Noida to pursue my graduation was very challenging. It was a difficult decision because the people in my extended family are very religious, and they do not believe that a girl should stay alone in another city. But my parents were very supportive; they did not hesitate to send me to the university of my choice, which was a pivotal moment in my life. 

Joining ZS was my big break, and that was not easy. After leaving Apollo Hospitals, I worked on a 6-months contract project at Tata Memorial Center. Getting the right job was tough; I made about 20 applications to different companies and gave interviews frequently. Finally, I got a call from ZS, the entire interview process hardly took two weeks, and I was selected for the Associate position. After the selection, I felt ultimate joy; I mean, the struggle and giving multiple interviews finally paid off.

Where do you work now? Can you explain Healthcare Consulting?

I am currently working as an Associate Consultant with Blue Matter. It is a strategic consulting firm serving the life sciences industry. Life sciences consulting is complex; apart from business skills like strategic thinking, problem-solving ability, and communication; knowledge about disease areas, drug development process, and understanding genetics is also very crucial. The life sciences knowledge from my bachelor’s degree and business specialization from MBA has helped me acquire these skills.

Blue Matter is a boutique consulting firm, so we work on diverse projects involving strategic thinking, market landscape analysis to support the pharma companies in decision-making. 

What problems do you solve?

My job is to read about different disease areas, understand the problem statement, identify key drivers and barriers for some projects, conduct primary market research, do analysis to generate insights, and create client deliverables. Every project that I have worked on in the past 3+ years is different; it offers a great learning experience and a multitude of challenges. With every new project, I grow and develop or improve a skill. During my tenure at Blue Matter (about 10 months), I have worked on a few interesting projects like performing a market landscape assessment to determine competition, strategy projects for pharma companies to support business, and R&D decisions, etc. 

The consulting experience of ZS and Blue Matter are slightly different. In ZS, the projects that I worked on were more technology-driven like the use of various statistical algorithms, AI/ML, excel models and focused on tool development. I have also worked on a few strategy projects. As Blue Matter is a boutique consulting firm, the projects here are focused on developing strategies, generating insights from the secondary and primary research, so overall the focus is on qualitative assessment and generating actionable recommendations for the clients. 

Another difference between both the firms is the level of engagement in the project, I feel ZS has a hierarchy and the tasks that you are aligned with is based on your level, you cannot get more involved in client discussions if you are at low levels. However, it is completely different in Blue Matter; if you are working on a project you can participate in the client discussions and contribute to the projects. You feel more engaged in the project, contribute more significantly and the learning is great.

How does your work benefit society? 

I feel that the work I am doing, even if it is a small contribution, will influence the decision of some major pharma companies. It will bring in a significant change in the patient’s life or provide some novel treatment options. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I worked on a biomarker strategy project when I was at ZS Associates. During this project, I was closely involved in gathering the data and doing all the analysis. The project results were great, and the leadership appreciated my work. I also received a “Project Champions Award” for my contributions to the project. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Life is not easy, and things do not go as you plan. Sometimes, when you expect the worst, great things happen. Always try to learn new things and use your opportunities wisely. Don’t lose hope if you cannot achieve your goal; keep trying and consistently deliver the best. Try to be compassionate and polite to others. 

Future Plans?

I want to lead projects and help clients achieve their objectives in the near-term future. I want to learn new things that will evolve and deliver the best result.