Pharmaceutical products have had a direct impact on the society through innovative medicines at an affordable price, which have improved the quality of life for countless patients.

Aditya Murthy, our next pathbreaker, Lead (Manager), Biopharmaceutics at Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, works as part of a team tasked with the main objective of assessing the clinical risk for all the medicines entering clinical studies and communicating the same to the stakeholders within the company.

Aditya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about getting hooked to a career in pharmaceutical sciences as it had an eclectic mix of biology, chemistry and medicine.

For students, India is hailed as the ‘World’s Pharmacy’ because generic medicines of Indian origin save millions of lives around the globe. This thought should be motivating enough for you to get to to work each day!

Aditya, what were your initial years like?

I was brought up in a small city called Hubli in northern Karnataka. I had a happy childhood. My father is an entrepreneur and an astute businessman, while my mother is a homemaker. My parents had migrated from Mysore region to eke out a living in the new place. Ours was an average middle class family with strong cultural values. I had regular schooling and education. As a child, I was never much into sports. I was however a keen listener and enjoyed stories told by my mother and grandfather (during vacations). As I grew up, I spent most of my spare time reading. I was hooked to the then popular children’s magazines like ‘Champak’ and ‘Chandamama’. I also loved reading ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ publications. When I was around 7-8 years old, my father gifted me with a yearly subscription of a Russian magazine called ‘Misha’. The glossy pages of this magazine carried Russian folk tales, fun facts, drawings, puzzles and extraordinary lifelike sketches. Those were the days when no one had heard of the internet  and on-click connectivity with the outside world was a dream! For a youngster like me living in a small Indian town, it was literally a window to the world. It fired my imagination and left me in awe of the world outside.

Fast forward a few years, I was drowned in the fictitious, yet fantastic world of Malgudi – the brainchild of the great writer and storyteller Mr. R.K. Narayanan. Book after book, I was mesmerized by the characters, their simple, yet interesting lives, their unique situations and their ways of overcoming them. 

With time, I jumped from one genre to another. Gradually, I settled with science non-fiction and was introduced to Dr Vilanur Ramachandran (Dr VR) and his writings in the area of neuroscience The intricacies of the human brain and its prowess intrigued me. 

Just think – the brain is a squishy, jelly-like mass of cells that weighs about 3 pounds and takes up less than 3% of your body weight. Yet it has the ability to question, think and understand the world. It can contemplate on the Universe, contemplate on itself and on the purpose of human existence! It is what makes us who we are! what we feel, how we feel and why we feel in a certain way is all due to the enormous memory embedded somewhere in this mass of cells and the complex network within which these cells interact. From philosophical questions like: what makes us human? how are we different from animals? what is consciousness? is there God ?, to more trivial ones like, why do we laugh? why do we get attracted to someone? how do we make a choice? , I needed answers. Dr VR really helped me to get some of these answers through his books. I was always curious about the world around me and had many questions as a child. Therefore, a career in science was a natural choice for me. However, since my early days, I was not very much interested in Mathematics. Therefore, my career choices were limited. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

During the early 2000s, the IT wave was just hitting India and for most of my peers, a degree in Engineering was a default option. Back then, a 4-year undergraduate degree in any stream of Engineering would easily pave way for employment. More importantly, this was the era when India was opening up for globalization and many saw this as an opportunity to fulfill their long-cherished American dreams. 

I however chose a different path. I preferred life sciences over Engineering for my career. I evaluated courses in microbiology, animal husbandry, veterinary sciences and some AYUSH courses as well. However, it was the 4-year professional degree program in the Pharmaceutical Sciences (B.Pharm) which got me hooked. I felt this course had an eclectic mix of biology, chemistry and medicine. It dealt with how medicines were discovered, how they work, how they are manufactured, how to control the quality of medicines etc. I completed my B.Pharm degree course from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Karnataka. Despite passing the course with distinction and securing a few ranks at the University level, there weren’t  many employment opportunities back then. Moreover, I felt a need to specialize and decided to pursue a Masters in Pharmacy (M. Pharm) with a specialization in Pharmaceutics. When interest, hard work, passion and the right opportunity come together, the end result is usually great. I cleared GATE (now GPAT) with a good percentile and also topped the state-level PG entrance exam for M. Pharm. I joined Government College of Pharmacy, Bangalore and completed my 2 year post graduate degree with flying colors. 

Tell us, what were the triggers that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I was a curious child and passionate about reading. It’s difficult to point out one event or a person who influenced me to pick a career in the pharmaceutical sciences. I guess it was several small things which added up eventually. For example, I had read about Charaka and Sushrutha and their pioneering work in the field of medicine eons before the modern medicine system even existed. This was very intriguing to my young mind and that’s probably when the first seeds of interest were sown.

I was clear from my undergraduate days that I had to acquire specialization in my field. Hence, I started preparing for entrance exams from my 3rd year itself. To everyone interested, one pro tip here – talk to your seniors about the available options and the path forward. I did this and it was of great help to me because I was well aware of the challenges that lay ahead and prepared accordingly. Another critical aspect is not to be complacent with what you already have. It is important to keep pushing your boundaries and explore new things in your career. For example, although I specialized in Drug Delivery and worked for a few years in this area, when the opportunity came, I was ready to move out of my comfort zone. I moved to a relatively newer area of modelling and simulation where we use certain specialized software to predict the fate of medicine in the body. This work involves integration of datasets from several sources to understand and minimize the risk associated with the clinical studies. It reduces the number of trials and makes the process of discovering new medicines more effective, thus saving both time and money. For this job, my earlier training was certainly helpful, but was not fully adequate. I had to quickly learn and adapt to new skills. Although initially difficult, it broadened my horizons significantly. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

After my Masters, I worked for a couple of years as a R&D scientist in a pharmaceutical company. Subsequently, with my interest in science and some practical experience under my belt, I decided to pursue a PhD in Pharmaceutics/Drug Delivery. Broadly, this area deals with designing new dosage forms and improving the efficacy of the medicine. It involves use of advanced technologies to increase the availability of the medicine at the site of action. I finished my PhD from BITS Pilani University in about 4 years. This was the most fruitful period in my life infused with a steep learning curve.

After my PhD, I had opportunities to pursue postdoctoral training (PDF – Post Doctoral Fellowship) from a few Universities abroad. Nevertheless, I preferred joining the industry in India. I felt it could give me more hands-on and relevant experience.

In my last year of PhD, I was actively looking for opportunities both in India and abroad. That’s when I came across the PDF trainee position at Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. After rigorous screening, I was selected to work in the R&D division that was involved in the development of unique and differentiated drug (medicine) products. These products were conceptualized based on the understanding of patient needs. This role gave me both practical experience of working in the lab and an overall understanding of the drug development process. After working for a year-and-half in this role, I moved to Biocon Bristol Myers Squibb Research Center (BBRC) in Bangalore. This role was very different than what I had done before. Here, I was part of a team that focused on developing new medicines for cancer and other immunological diseases. Subsequently, after about 4 years, I moved to another company (Strides) where I gained good experience in setting up a lab from scratch. Eventually, I ended up in the current role, back at Dr Reddy’s. However, this time my role was much different. Currently, as a manager, my work involves dealing with multiple projects, working with tight timelines and managing people and resources. A PhD degree in pharmaceutical sciences not only gave me the necessary scientific skills, it also taught me important aspects like handling rejections, time management, dealing with people etc. These skills cumulatively help in building one’s career in the industry. 

Thus was my long academic journey of 10+ years in the field of pharmaceutical sciences beginning from under graduation and culminating in a PhD degree and working in the pharmaceutical industry.  

How did you get your first break? 

I was selected by a MNC through campus placement. The job responsibility was to manage production of medicines on the shopfloor. However, I did not like the profile and wanted to work as a scientist in the R&D sector. I got my first break into Pharmaceutical R&D through networking. It is important to maintain a robust network with your peers, seniors, and the people who matter in your field. Also, of importance is to closely follow people in your dream companies. The feedback and insights you get from them is invaluable; it will help you land in the job of your choice smoothly. Mine was no different. While your network can provide necessary support, you still have to do well in the interviews to get through. Preparation is certainly helpful. However, if you can think on your feet and prove yourself to be smarter than others on that day, you are in!

My break in the industry was a combination of active search, preparation and networking.

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

Let’s look at what a challenge is. A challenge is any situation/task that you were either not expecting or were ill-prepared for. Now, did I face challenges during my journey? Absolutely! For example, it was challenging for me to kickstart a conversation or deal with argumentative people. Switching to a new area of work was another challenge as it entailed learning and implementing new things within tight timelines. Each challenge is unique. There is no one magic formula or a trick that can help. According to me, the best way to address a challenge/challenging situation is to break it down as follows:

  1. Separate the rice from the husk – ask yourself, is it the task itself that is a challenge or the fear of failing the task?
  2. Analyze – if the task is a challenge, ask yourself – do I have the resources to address it myself or do I need help? If you can do it yourself, break down the bigger task into several micro tasks and set deadlines to accomplish each micro task. If you can finish these, the bigger task is automatically accomplished.
  3.  Don’t reinvent the wheel – if you know someone who can help, please seek help! This saves a lot of time and makes problem solving more efficient. Given infinite time and energy, any task can be accomplished and any challenge can be addressed. However, both time and energy are premium. So, make use of them efficiently.

Where do you work now? 

I currently work as a Lead in the Department of Biopharmaceutics, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. (DRL) , headquartered in Hyderabad, India. DRL is a well-known multinational pharmaceutical company (of Indian origin) that works towards bringing affordable and innovative medicines to patients across the globe, driven by the motto of ‘Good Health Can’t Wait’. The ambit of our work spreads across active pharmaceutical ingredients, generics, branded generics, biosimilars and over-the-counter pharmaceutical products that are supplied across the world.

Can you tell us about your role?

The department of Biopharmaceutics, where I currently work, is a part of an integrated product development center. The main role of our department is to assess the clinical risk for all the medicines entering into clinical studies and communicate the same to the stakeholders within the company. Using various experimental and software tools, we predict and red-flag the risks of not meeting the desired criteria in clinical studies early during the product development stage. This is important because it helps in selecting the right products for development instead of investing resources on unworthy ones. 

We also provide robust feedback to the R&D teams on how the product can be improved to make it more effective. We also routinely help in finalizing the dosage form and its design. 

For example, let’s say we have a new medicine that is effective in the treatment of cancer. Integrating the physico-chemical properties, physiological factors of the human body and other aspects into the software tools, we predict how a given medicine will perform in the patient’s body. We also help to decide the final form in which the medicine has to be given to the patient – E.g.: as solution/suspension/tablet/capsule/injection etc. 

Let’s say we want to administer the medicine as a tablet, following questions need to be considered:

  • How should the tablet be designed? – single layer? multi-layer? 
  • How long should the medicine keep releasing from the tablet in the body? quick release of medicine? slow release of medicine?   
  • How frequently should the tablet be administered to the patient?
  • Can the tablet be taken on an empty stomach or after food?
  • Does food affect the performance of the tablet in the body?
  • What happens if a patient consumes an antacid or other medicines along with this tablet?

How does your work benefit society? 

I believe the work I do has a direct impact on the people and society. A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. Our work helps in bringing innovative medicines to the patients at an affordable price. Some of our products touch millions across the globe. The most satisfying part of our job is to know that the work we do has a direct impact on improving the quality of life for several patients. Today in India, prices of most of the essential medicines are regulated by the Government and hence affordable. The same is possible because pharmaceutical companies in India work every day to bring quality medicines to the needy at affordable prices. India is hailed as the ‘World’s Pharmacy’ because generic medicines of Indian origin save millions of lives around the globe, while being affordable and of good quality. This thought is motivating enough to go to work each day!

Author Details:

Aditya Murthy, Ph.D.

Lead, Biopharmaceutics, 

Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Hyderabad, India