March 28, 2024, by Mei Kee Lee

Experience Sharing: Summer Internship at AstraZeneca

By Ng Qian Hui, who is currently a Year 3 Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences (PHS) student at UNM. 


Where did you do your summer internship? How long was it?

Although it is not mandatory for Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences students to do summer internship, it is recommended for us to utilize our summertime wisely and gain some working experiences in order to boost our employability. Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences Graduates are generally well equipped with specific skills required for job focusing on research and development in the country. Besides, graduates can also explore other job opportunities, for example medical affairs, regulatory affairs, clinical trial management and sales and marketing.

As we might already know, Malaysia has limited opportunities for research and development due to privatization of the Government Medical Store and poor implementation of pro-generic policies. Therefore, securing a job in a pharmaceutical company in Malaysia can be highly competitive especially if you wish to be involved in research and development. Alternatively, sales and marketing is a more popular option for graduates who wish to work in a pharmaceutical company as there is a higher job supply in marketing to keep track on the consumer trend and customers’ behaviour change. Therefore, there is a higher possibility that graduates can secure themselves a position in the pharmaceutical field. That said, work experience is the key for us to stand out among other potential candidates.

I was lucky enough to receive a 3-month-internship offer under Medical Affairs from a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, AstraZeneca. It is also well-known due to its Covid-19 vaccine during the pandemic (Vaxzevria). AstraZeneca’s main mission is to improve and accelerate the delivery of life-changing medicines in order to create enduring value for patients, society and the shareholders. I was also attracted to their commitment to sustainability, which is embedded in everything they do, from the lab to the patient. Besides, AstraZeneca has a diverse working environment. Employees are able to engage with people from different background and culture, where they could expand their connection within the pharmaceutical industry.


What did it involve?

As part of the medical team, we work closely with other departments such as marketing department and sales department as a support between healthcare professionals and the company in order to propose suitable solutions with regards to the unmet needs in the market, with supporting scientific evidence and references. Unlike the commercial team, medical team must be neutral and only convey thoughts based on scientific evidence when engaging with the stakeholders about the pharmaceutical product. The job scope of the team covers planning for congress strategy, KOL engagement, stakeholder mapping and data interpretation. It is essential for the team to be able to identify the key opinion leaders (KOL), expert speakers, and well-known academicians who can deliver and provide technical and clinical insight with real-world applications. Each medical department consists of their respective medical science liaisons (MSLs), the field-based medical affairs professionals who are responsible to support the initiation, oversight and follow up of clinical studies and medical projects initiated within the therapeutic area. Besides, medical affairs is also in charge to process promotional materials, local packaging materials and local packaging materials.

As an intern, this was a great opportunity for me to have an insight into how the pharmaceutical industry operates. It allowed me to expand my people connection, to be involved in meaningful events, for example summits and congresses, and most importantly to allow me to understand workplace policies, norms and expectations which helped me to expand my knowledge and explore my area of interest.

Like any other interns, as a new joiner in the company, it was mandatory for us to attend the briefing session on the first day on the company’s regulation. In fact, it was the perfect time to engage with other people from different departments to build connections. The startup was not as hectic as what I expected, as my manager assigned me a sensible and manageable workload. I was invited to the team lunch on the second week where I get to acquaint myself with fellow members in the team. The day commenced with a warm welcome to all new comers from our supervisors.

Each department consists of two divisions, the medical team and the commercial team. Both teams contribute to brainstorming sessions and collaborative projects, which aim to enhance the company’s medical initiatives and reputation, the alignment is essential to ensure that the medical strategies work as planned. The team is normally involved in organising AstraZeneca’s presence in medical events, prepare materials and booth setup. They have similar roles in identifying the unmet needs in the pharmaceutical field in order to plan suitable solutions to fill up the gap in the market. However, there is a difference between the medical team and the commercial team, the commercial team is primarily responsible for promoting and selling the pharmaceutical company’s products, while the medical team is responsible for ensuring that the company’s products are used safely, effectively, and ethically.

Medical team focuses on providing accurate and evidence-based information to healthcare professionals and other stakeholders, especially highlighting the mechanisms of action of the product, clinical efficacy and safety profile of the product. All the information delivered must be supported by the clinical evidence behind the product including the potential side effects associated with using the product. Theoretical assumptions and animal trials should not be used as a proper supporting reference. The results for animal studies can vary when it is translated to human clinical trials. Human clinical conditions can vary, meaning that the treatment might show promise in animals, but the same effects might not happen in humans due to differences in disease mechanisms or treatment responses. Therefore, animal trials and theoretical assumptions can only serve as the starting points for research, aiding to identify the potential treatments and mechanisms of the drug. Meanwhile, clinical evidence from human trials is the gold standard for assessing safety, effectiveness, and side effects in the context of actual patients. The transparent approach between the pharmaceutical company and the stakeholders is crucial to allow the healthcare professionals to pass on the information to their patients. From there, the patients will be able understand what to expect and how to respond if they experience any of the adverse effect. This contributes to patient safety their overall trust in the pharmaceutical company’s product.

By offering comprehensive information about their products’ benefits and limitations, the medical team supports healthcare professionals in making well-informed decisions tailored to individual patient needs. However, it is important for the medical team to be unbiased when they get in touch with the stakeholders to avoid indirectly influencing the healthcare professionals own opinion of the product, the approach is strictly guided by ethical and regulatory considerations to ensure fair communication. Comparing competing products is very sensitive within the medical field, and therefore direct comparison is typically avoided to prevent the delivery of misleading information. Eventually, violating these guidelines could lead to undesirable regulatory consequences for the pharmaceutical company. If healthcare professionals inquire about comparisons, the medical team can only provide general information about the therapeutic landscape and the different treatment options available to assist the healthcare professionals in making the best decision for their patients while at the same time adhering the ethical standards.


What did you find interesting throughout this experience?

Towards the third month of my internship, I had the privilege to participate in various summits and congresses. Medical congresses and summits are the prominent events within the healthcare and medical industry where the healthcare professionals and experts gather to share knowledge and present research findings. Not only that, representative of pharmaceutical companies, usually the MSLs, sales representative and the marketing team will also be involved in the event, as medical congresses and summits attract a diverse range of attendees, including physicians, surgeons, researchers, pharmacists and nurses. This indirectly provides networking opportunities for the team to capture potential stakeholders and also to deliver information on the pharmaceutical products to the HCPs.

On the day of the congress, our team arrived early for booth setup for Synagis Vaccine. Synagis, also known as Palivizumab is a prescription antibody that is used to help preventing serious lung disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children. RSV is a common and highly contagious virus and it has been a global concern over years, but most babies can fight off the infection on their own. But this is not the case when it comes to premature babies, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) babies and congenital heart disease (CHD) babies. These babies are at most of the risks in getting infected by RSV, and it can lead to permanent disruption on alveolarization and adverse lung function if left untreated. Our main goal on the congress was to spread RSV awareness including the prevention measures and importance of vaccines as this could potentially reduce the number of RSV hospitalisation.


How did the summer internship support your learning and future career development?

After engaging with the healthcare professionals in the congress, I learned how the doctors and nurses not only seek the most effective treatments for their patients but also prioritize their patients’ individual needs. I was certainly touched with their dedication in incorporating the latest research findings and clinical insights into their practice, in order to ensure their patients receive treatments founded on the most current and reliable information available. Besides, through the conversation, I also learned that it is important to take into consideration the patients concerns and preferences when planning the suitable treatment for the patients. It is heartening to witness how the doctors genuinely listen and empathize the patients’ need when optimising the treatment plans.


What is one take home message you obtain from this experience?

Throughout my internship journey, I was able to witness the dedication of the medical affairs team to improving patient outcome and advancing medical sciences. This has left a remarkable mark on my professional growth. Working alongside the medical team allowed me to broaden my perspective on the integral role, at the same time understanding that evidence-based practices play a crucial role in shaping the future of healthcare industry. My internship at AstraZeneca has not only enriched my understanding of medical affairs but has also deepened my appreciation for the team’s efforts together with the healthcare professionals in bringing life-changing treatments to patients in need. As I move forward, I will carry with me the valuable lessons that I learned and the connections I made during my time at AstraZeneca. This experience has definitely solidified my dedication to contributing meaningfully to the medical field and also to the well-being of individuals in our country.

Posted in Experience SharingInternshipPHS