September 22, 2021, by Lee Mei Kee

Student Sharing: My Industrial Internship Experience at Kotra Pharma

Article written by Tan Zhi Xuan, Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences Year 3 student. He worked as R&D Formulation Intern with Kotra Pharma (M) Sdn. Bhd for 3 months during the summer break this year.

What did I do?

I get to understand and experience the in-process of a generic drug product development, from desktop research, carrying out small scale lab-based drug formulation trials, scaling up (pilot batch) trial batches to a larger scale in the production facility and registration of the new product. As we know, different drug formulations such as cream, tablet or syrup have their particular way of manufacturing, being able to understand their processes and the reason behind certain processes can be eye opening and is definitely something that we can’t learn in class.

There was no fixed daily task that I must carry out, from time to time I will join with lab technicians to observe the production of drug product trial batch, these batches are in a small scale, therefore can be easily carried out in a laboratory. Here is where I learnt the most, to be able to understand the reason behind the alteration of formulations, for example, separation of suspensions, hardness of tablet not achieved, viscosity of cream not achieved and even unfavorable taste of a formulation. Besides, my supervisor would constantly question me on the processes that we’ve discussed, and if I don’t provide a reasonable answer, I’ll be in front of the desktop, trying to search for an answer. There was no rotation between departments but from time to time, I was able to communicate with people from production, QA and QC, when I require information from them to complete my task. I did also enter the production facility and observe how are drugs being manufactured in a large scale for commercial use.

Kotra Pharma’s manufacturing facility

How did Pharmaceutical & Health Science Degree Course help?

I would say that the application of PHS’s module was very direct and straight forward. For example:

(1) Pharmaceutical Analysis & Spectroscopy

This module helped me to understand which spectroscopy data I am looking at, especially during the submission of API chromatograms during preparation of registration. I was also able to understand the reason of carrying out specific spectrometry test, such as FTIR, HPLC, NMR and MS.

(2) Pharmaceutics 1 & 2

I would consider these modules from year 1 and 2 to be the core for me to understand the process of formulating a drug product. To get to know what parameters and material properties are being looked at when formulating a drug product and to consider which ingredient is more suitable to serve a certain purpose in the formulation.

(3) Pharmaceutical Microbiology

As we know, some bacteria can be harmful to consumers, therefore the basic understanding of how bacteria infect humans, allowed me to have a better understanding of aseptic processing, sterilization, and microbe tests.

A two-layer tablet after compression

How did I find the internship?

I get to know this company from Dr. Lee Mei Kee’s Internship Placement that she used to share from time to time through email. However, the information provided was not enough for me to understand what the company is doing. So, I went to their website and tried to understand what the different departments are doing and finally made a choice to apply for the R&D department. The assistant manager who interviewed me was rather direct and technical. During the interview, he asked about my modules and what do I know about drug formulations. To be honest, I can’t answer 60% of the question properly, despite already learning them, but I was shocked that I got accepted and till now still unsure of the reason behind it (maybe the interview was just part of the process). However, it was not too bad when I start to learn more during the internship and get to learn to apply my learning in real-world scenarios.

How was my experience?

For me, it was fantastic, being able to ask questions directly to industrial experts that are in the same office. If I didn’t take a step to actually apply for an internship 6 months before the summer holiday, I will never get a chance to learn like that, before actually working after graduation. Now, I know clearly if the R&D of a generic company focusing on formulation is the path that I want to seek after graduation. There was no direct guide during the internship to know what to learn, but through time and after being able to understand the basic processes, more questions started to pop up and there is where I can start to question more or ask the ‘right’ question.

Me taking picture when no one is around in the laboratory


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