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Dave Smith

Career progression

1. BSc Biochemistry, Bristol University

2. PhD National Heart & Lung Institute, University of London

3. Post doc, National Heart & Lung Institute, University of London

4. Post doc, Department of Biochemistry, Southampton

5. University Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College School of Medicine

6. Principal Scientist, AstraZeneca, Discovery Sciences Open Innovation, Cambridge UK

7. Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Biochemical Pharmacology, William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London

Published: in Industry

Dave is a Principal Scientist at AstraZeneca on the Cambridge Science Park with experience in both academia and industry.

What do you do? What does a typical week look like to you?

Like most scientists I don’t have a typical week.  My current role, since returning to the UK, is to lead the part of AstraZeneca’s Open Innovation programme relating to sharing AstraZeneca compound screening collections to start new projects in drug discovery.  Although my original expertise was in the biochemistry and pharmacology of cardiovascular and metabolic targets I now cover all disease areas of relevance to the company i.e. oncology, respiratory, neuroscience and cardiovascular/metabolism.  This is exciting as it has broadened my scientific knowledge greatly but it does mean that I am sometimes out of my depth – fortunately I have a great network of colleagues to lean on when I need the expert views.  Most of my work involves collaboration with academic groups so I spend a lot of time visiting universities and research institutes or discussing projects with the academic PI by teleconference.  

I also head a part of AstraZeneca’s post doc programme.  This currently consists of about 140 post docs based across the AstraZeneca research sites in the UK, USA and Sweden and covers all the areas of interest for the company, cancer, cardiometabolic, respiratory and neuroscience.  

What do you like and dislike the most about your current position?

The thing that makes my job most worthwhile is interacting with top-class academic groups and learning more about the new biology of diseases and technologies to address the problems.  There are so many dedicated and talented researchers out there!  My main dislike is the slow contract process for new collaborations and the lack of understanding of Open Innovation principles – hopefully this is changing with time as both academia and industry embrace these concepts.

How do you see your career further progressing in the future?

I would like to see Open Innovation firmly established as a way of bringing new projects into AstraZeneca and pharma in general.

What three pieces of advice would you give someone keen on developing a career in your area of work?

I have had the privilege of working for quite a while in both academia and industry and can see both sides of the discussion.  Its clear to me that although much is made of the differences there isn’t really any fundamental difference – if you are a good scientist you will do well in either and you can move from one to the other.
Industry isn’t the dark side!  You can learn a lot from a period working in pharma/biotech about how to translate your work into something which may eventually benefit patients.

If you are keen on pursuing a scientific career in the life sciences industry, studying for a PhD is a good way to get a grounding in research and a subject specialism from which to build upon.

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