Thank high-fructose sugar for pulling at least one of the brightest of a new generation into the study of chemistry, potentially the business of pharmaceuticals, and maybe even the field of outsourcing drug development and manufacturing.
Catey Claridge is about to graduate Xavier University with a Bachelor of Science (“basically a chemical science degree”) and minor in business. She has interned at Xavier Health, and was a “Generation Z” panelist at the most recent FDA/Xavier Pharmalink Conference, a forum for inspiring collaboration and innovation across the biotech and pharma supply chain.
I spoke with Claridge from the Cincinnati campus, to learn of her motivations, what she thinks about our industry, and to learn how our industry can do a better job of educating and recruiting members of her generation, the demographic cohort following the better-known Millennials.
It Starts With Sugar
Claridge would like to work in the pharmaceutical industry. She does and doesn’t know details about the drug supply-chain and contract development and manufacturing organizations. She converses with that unique mix of soft insecurity and the boldness of youth. I start by asking her how she selected chemistry as her major: Was it a parent’s or teacher’s guidance?
“It’s actually funny now,” she says. “I worked at McDonald’s in high school. I was obsessed with not eating high-fructose corn syrup. I thought maybe I’d work for the FDA. I did well in chemistry in high school, and liked math and science, so thought that would be my major in college … to stay on my anti-sugar crusade. My mother thought it was a good idea since we need more women entering science.” The business minor came of her own making a few years into her difficult major, and so took some cajoling of her guidance counselor, who “worried I wouldn’t have enough time to finish up.”
“I decided to do a business minor, because I’ve always been interested in the business world. Everything you do involves a business. You have to understand economics, and how to be a manager for that business to be successful. I think after taking organic chemistry, I got a little weary, but business classes like accounting reminded me of why I loved chemistry in the first place. I like the math behind it, and proving things. I like to see where the math takes the science.”
Before the recruiters reading this jump into action, let’s listen to how Claridge found her way into our world of supply chains and outsourcing. Here, too, we start with a part-time job … but less sugar.
The FDA And Sales
“Honestly, this is funny, too,” Claridge starts. “I was a junior, and working at the local bank as a teller – and I was bored. I started searching the web and Xavier Health popped up; I saw references to “pharma” and “medical devices,’ and thought I could see myself involved in that.”
She immediately contacted Dr. Marla Phillips, Director of Xavier Health, and who leads PharmaLink. Claridge then volunteered to work in the organization, and eventually became an intern. What most interested her was the open communication and cooperation between the FDA and pharma industry.
“I knew there was this stigma out there that pharmaceutical companies don’t like the FDA,” explains Claridge. “Everyone is buttonholed. Even a friend of mine, whose parent is a doctor, said, ‘What do you mean the industry and the FDA have this meeting group, they don’t like each other.’”
Yet Claridge witnessed a different interaction. “It’s not butting heads; it’s more of a let’s-come-together, let’s-make-a- difference situation. Not just dance around a topic; call it out and talk about it. Most people still think that literally the two sides don’t get along, but it’s not true. That’s the biggest thing I learned.”
Another observation was that the pharma industry isn’t “all sales and sales people making a pitch.” Claridge clarifies: “I think when most of my generation considers pharmaceutical companies, we think of sales people, or the commercials that list all the side effects at the end. But I’ve learned of the quality professionals and regulatory people that make a difference in a company and products, and address any problems with products.
“That was hard for me to wrap my head around at first: All the misconceptions I had about pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Unfortunately, most of us still view companies as mostly sales people selling drugs or devices.”
One thing is certain: Our industry needs to change the narrative. We’ll touch on that next.
CMOs On Drug Labels, Pharma In The News
Claridge quickly grasped the concept of the “supply chain,” but like most everyone not intimately involved with our industry, she’s not familiar with the actual organizations we call CROs, CMOs and CDMOs.
Part way through describing these organizations to her – and wondering if she might consider working at one some day – she asks permission to interject a question: “When a pharmaceutical company makes a drug, their name and logo is on the box or vial, but what about the CMO who makes the drug?”
Claridge says she’s been thinking about labeling on drug packaging (and old habit born of scanning for sugars): “I know the pharma brand. I don’t know where the drug actually came from. It seems strange to me.”
She’s not alone. But she relates this line of questioning back to her generation. “If you want to know something about Generation Z’s standpoint, we really are all about social media, about what happens on those news platforms. That’s what we grew up with. What we see about big pharma today mostly is the opioid abuse, accusations of overselling, and people hiking drug prices.”
Claridge uses the news app on Snapchat. “I think guys use Twitter more; girls more Instagram and Snapchat.” I ask about bias in the news. She says she’s very much aware of it, and questions articles she reads. Still, how does someone like her fight through the negativity to become enthused about potentially working in the pharmaceutical industry – let alone our shadowed supply chains?
“At the same time, I ask why the news is happening, try to step back and look at the data. We can forget that with social media. What could my generation do from a quality perspective to make better products and inform patients? Why do drugs fail or not perform properly? I want to go back to the development and supply chain and see what happened.”
A more informative presence on social media platforms … a direction some in our industry have started already. Claridge provides another data point to continue. How about Patheon or Lonza finding a footing on Snapchat?
What Can We Expect?
What does Claridge see on the horizon of an industry she may become a part of?
“I think the forefront for the next 20 years will be resistance to antibiotics,” she says without hesitation. “It will be interesting to see what companies do from a supply chain perspective, to see how we’re going to make and get supplies for any new drugs.”
What can (we) older generations expect from Generation Z when it become more prevalent in (hopefully our) workspaces?
“Because we are so technology oriented for communication, news, and workflow, there are expectations of what this means, and assumptions about how we will react to the workplace. They think we’re fast-paced and reliant on technology for everything.
“I agree our communication style will be different. We’ll want to FaceTime, and not need so much face-to-face contact. It’s going to be interesting to see how we do business with one another. I do think a lot of things will be backed up by data in the workplace, because we have great new technologies. I think that would be a good bet. But I guess we’ll just have to wait. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
And interesting to see where the best of our incoming generation end up. If our industry is smart, we’ll know how to reach Claridge on all her communication platforms. (And mention sugar.)