Pharmacologist in Phrame: Dr Nilima Arun Kshirsagar

Hi Dr Nilima Arun Kshirsagar and Welcome to “Pharmacologist in Phrame”! What inspired you to pursue an academic career?

I was always interested in research, particularly concerning health problems relevant to India, with the aim to finding new drugs and examining their use. I noted that the pharmaceutical industry focussed on non-communicable diseases. Interestingly, infectious diseases/tropical diseases (e.g. Malaria, Kalaazar, Filariasis) were the most important problems in India and these diseases could be studied in an academic set-up.

Pictured: Dr Nilima Arun Kshirsagar 

How was your postgraduate education training?

I studied both my graduate and postgraduate degree at the GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, one of the Top 10 institutions in the country. My postgraduate training under the mentorship of Professor Sheth was excellent and I developed my knowledge in Clinical Pharmacology, especially drug development. The award of a Searle Fellowship allowed me to travel to the UK to work at the Searle Research Centre and St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

How did you choose your PhD project and what did you enjoy the most during your PhD?

My PhD project focussed on understanding how the high prevalence of anaemia in the Indian population can affect pharmacokinetics (PK) and drug development. I was fortunate to work on my project independently, with access to good facilities including a ‘Clinical Pharmacology’ ward. I received a research grant from the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) to set up a PK laboratory with High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and other equipments.

Did you have a role model who influenced your decision to work in science, specialising in clinical and translational pharmacology?

The role models for pursuing medicine as a career were both my uncle and older sister. My uncle was a surgeon with great skills, very gentle and humane with a great sense of humour. Additionally, my mentor Prof. Sheth started the discipline of clinical pharmacology in India. His logical approach, research-oriented mindset and work translating the relevance of pharmacology to patient experience was extraordinary. He inspired me to study new drug development.

What would you consider your greatest achievement so far?

My achievements are the establishment of strategies to benefit patients locally, nationally, and internationally, both directly and indirectly. For example, we started therapeutic drug monitoring service in India, which helped epileptic patients who were suffering from side effects or not responding to usual doses of standard antiepileptic drugs.  It was a joy to see them being relieved of their symptoms and improving their quality of life. We also started an outpatient clinic for malaria with the development of local and national guidelines to advise patients on appropriate treatment. A multicentric clinical trial on Coartem led to its international registration with World Health Organisation (WHO) acceptance and worldwide use. We developed liposomal amphotericin, taking it from bench, bedside to market. This was life saving for patients with systemic fungal infection, not tolerating plain amphotericin. It also greatly helped in reducing the duration of treatment in kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis).

What is your secret of success in science?

I’m not sure if I call this success in science, but I would say hard work, diligence, and perseverance. Interestingly, my motivation was not only from teachers but also competition with colleagues.

Tell us about your current research.

For the past decade, I have been involved in mentoring and guiding research. As national chair at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), my proposal for a national (virtual) centre for Clinical Pharmacology, with nationwide centres for product development and rational use of medicines, was approved. The centres were set up in 2019, with prescribing skills online training programme for interns and practicing doctors launched in 2020. We had three annual cycles with over 15,000 participants.
We also established prescription research with the development of software ‘Prescsoft’. Studies on prescriptions for anaemia and acute respiratory diseases were conducted. During COVID-19 pandemic, 12,000 healthcare workers were enrolled in a study to assess prophylactic effect of hydroxychloroquine (hydroxychloroquine). The long-term effects of COVID-19 were also studied. We have also developed point of care diagnostics for viral diarrhoea and Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency which is important for anti-malaria drug. We have ongoing studies on drug repurposing drugs such as Picroliv (standardised plant extract) for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
We recently presented our work on our prescribing skills course at WCP2023. As part of a workshop on Clinical Pharmacology status and advocacy, I presented the status in Asian countries and suggested a way forward for promoting it.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

Pharmacology has been a passion for me - the more I am involved, the more I enjoy it and this leaves me little time for other tasks! Nevertheless, I do enjoy mystery movies (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie) and Bollywood movies which are extraordinary. I enjoy cooking but enjoy food made by my husband as he is a very enthusiastic cook.

What are on your thoughts on mentorship and how would you choose a mentor?

Mentorship is extremely important to me. In India, the term ‘Guru’ is a very revered concept, meaning mentor and teacher. Their role is to inspire, advise, direct, guide, help and teach. Their value is often recognised years later, especially when you find their teachings and guidance have been invaluable. If you are lucky, you get to choose a mentor, but you often have several mentors. In my life, I have been mentored in every step in my life. It is the chemistry between the mentor and mentee that matters the most.

How do you balance your roles as an educator, researcher and clinical practitioner in India?

Balancing these roles is not difficult as one heavily depends on another. Balancing family and work life is more difficult! There are difficult decisions to make when you must forego some career options to balance a good family life. However, it is emotionally important!

What would be your advice for the next generation of early-career researchers and New Starting Investigators?

Be passionate about your work, but don’t be demotivated by failures! It takes a while to achieve success which can be momentary.

How did you get involved with IUPHAR and WHO?

My involvement in WHO started with my mentor, and by attending a WHO workshop in Malaysia on malaria. Thereafter, the visit of a WHO expert to the PK Lab and setting up of Clinical Pharmacology with work on tropical diseases led to me becoming a member of the Steering Committee of Macrofil in Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).  My work done on pharmacovigilance allowed me to be involved in WHO’s Advisory Committee on Safety of Medicinal Products (ACSOMP) and more recently malaria work in the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG). My involvement with IUPHAR has been through invitations from Prof. David Webb and Prof. Simon Maxwell as well as collaborations with Prof. Michael Spedding.

What are your top tips for networking?

Networking is important for innovation and progress. Network with colleagues from other disciplines, professions and family members. It is important to be able to communicate your scientific research to a lay audience – I always advise my students to explain their research to their grandmother. If she is excited by the idea, they are on the right track!
Rapid-Fire Round with Dr Nilima Arun Kshirsagar:
  • Favourite Movie? Three Idiots.
  • Favourite Scientist? Too many to list!
  • Sweet or savoury? Both.
  • Tea or Coffee? Both.
  • In vitro or In vivo? In vivo


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Published: 13 Dec 2023
By Dr Aisah Aubdool

About the author

Aisah Aubdool 

Aisah is a Lecturer in Cardiovascular Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London. She graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Pharmacology before gaining her PhD in 2014 from King’s College London, under the mentorship of Professor Susan D Brain. Aisah moved to William Harvey Research Institute in 2016 as a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Professor Adrian Hobbs. Aisah’s research focuses on studying the role of C-type natriuretic peptide in vascular remodelling and aortic aneurysms. She was the Chair for the IUPHAR ECR Committee (2018-2022). Aisah is a Senior Editor for Pharmacology Matters, BPS Ambassador coordinator and member of BPS Engagement Committee.

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