Chirag Shah PharmD’14 on His Path from Pharmacy Student to Working in Industry

By Chirag Shah PharmD'14
AD, Global Program Management (R&D), Arena Pharmaceuticals

Published on April 19, 2019

My career path has been filled with curiosity and opportunity. But before I dive into the details, it’s important to appreciate the tremendous amount of opportunities available for pharmacists—in hospital, retail, managed care, or the pharmaceutical industry. No matter what role you pursue, your doctorate in pharmacy will serve you well and provide you with a strong scientific acumen. The pharmaceutical industry in particular provides countless opportunities that require application of scientific knowledge and ultimately the development of a strong understanding of the business.

Like many others in pharmacy school, I was unsure about what I wanted to do after graduation. I struggled between continuing down a more traditional clinical path and pursuing an industry role. Ultimately, I applied to the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) FDA program during my externship year and was matched with the Drug Shortage division. For my industry elective, I was fortunate enough to rotate within the Corporate Advocacy and Business Development group at Celgene Corporation, where I had my first real exposure to working in industry.

After graduation, I landed a full-time position within the medical Information group at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, where I was able to demonstrate my therapeutic expertise, understanding of clinical research, and leadership abilities. After learning how to manage a call center, to chair promotional and medical review teams, and to work on a UK drug product launch, I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed working on brand teams and knew that I wanted to move into a global role at a larger organization.

Transitions Blend Into Experience
Next, I transitioned into a global scientific communications position at Teva Pharmaceuticals,  where I served as a medical marketer and had the opportunity to create scientific stories for a variety of early- to late-stage central nervous system assets. Working directly within the global brand team helped me to understand how a fully-functioning organization should work.

After transitioning to a start-up company, where I helped build a scientific communications team for a rare disease business, personal circumstances brought me to sunny San Diego, California, where I was hired within the Global Medical Writing and Regulatory Submissions group at Receptos LLC (subsequently acquired by Celgene). This role was a natural fit: I was responsible for medical writing as in my former roles, but was also able to write for different audiences such as regulatory health authorities.

My current role with Arena Pharmaceuticals involves supporting Research and Development (R&D) teams-automating, optimizing and streamlining processes within drug development. It's a blend of all the experiences I’ve had to date, and certainly requires a solid understanding of the entire drug development process.

Key Takeaways
There is no magic formula when it comes to breaking into the pharmaceutical industry. Remember that your first role is not the be-all and end-all of your career. Spend time trying to understand yourself and your goals to determine if industry is a good fit. Then, let your drive push you forward. Seek out a strong mentor and never lose your ambition.

At the end of the day, serving as an industry pharmacist will allow you to become an outside-the-box thinker who can work to create solutions that address unmet patient and customer needs while simultaneously delivering significant value to the business. I cannot stress enough the value that pharmacists with clinical practice experience bring to industry. The foundation you've built will serve you well and I wish you much success in whatever path you decide to pursue.

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