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Vol 23, No. 11, November 2019For e-subscribers (PDF)
Life of a Scientist at Novartis (Singapore)
An exclusive peek into what it’s like working in pharmaceutical manufacturing as a scientist.

My role and main responsibilities are…

Centered around the Manufacturing Science and Technology (MS&T) analytics lab operations. As an Associate Section Manager of MS&T Analytics, I lead a team of five associates to conduct analytical testing for conformance and small scale runs in MS&T upstream and downstream labs and pilot plant. In addition, I perform investigative testing for raw material and process investigations as well as implement innovative methods and tools to optimize investigations and testing.

The MS&T labs consist of the upstream, downstream and Analytics labs; and the pilot plant facilities. My role involves coordinating with teams from these four major parts of our labs and managing the budget of these facilities accordingly. Naturally, I work closely with the Quality Control Labs, Site Engineering and Process Unit team. I also have an oversight on safety in the MS&T lab environment and work with our Health Safety and Environment (HSE) team to ensure that we follow and implement safe practices at the labs.

I became a scientist because…

Growing up, my mother enjoyed studying about plants and their uses in alleviating minor ailments. Looking at how my mother enjoyed her ‘R&D’ process, I would sometimes think of ways to extract plant essences too. My mother constantly encouraged me to adopt a curious mindset. This ultimately sparked my interest in science and medicine

I chose to work in this field because…

I find purpose in the work we do at Novartis – ensuring the safety and quality of medicines we provide to patients. Every step we take in driving continuous improvements in our processes and testing methods can make a difference to patients and the wider community.

A typical day in the lab involves…

Several morning meetings to align on the day’s work priorities and reviewing analytical testing results with the team.

As a leader, I also set aside time to have one-to-one discussions with my team members to monitor their progression on weekly tasks and their overall development plan.

Outside the lab, I’m also involved in…

Volunteering for various conservation and environmental initiatives. I was a zoo docent for seven years where I interacted with visitors to promote conservation awareness. Through knowledge sharing, bringing visitors closer to nature, and providing hands-on experiences with animals, we raised awareness of the undesirable effect humans have on the environment and what we can do to help conserve nature.

I also took part in a study for marine debris monitoring program to establish a marine debris baseline for Singapore. After demarcating the sampling locations in Singapore’s northern coastal area, I performed debris sampling, sorted and documented the debris according to their sizes, and helped clean up the area.

My lab is currently working on…

Conducting analytical testing for small-scale labs as well as investigative studies and testing to support process-related investigations. We recently concluded a set of investigative testing and experiments to aid in the identification of the root cause in a process investigation.

In addition, we are engaged in collaboration with process teams in a Process Analytical Technology (PAT) project that operates an inline Raman spectrometer. This project aims to establish a testing model to perform online monitoring of cell culture attributes in process performance. Once implemented, we will be able to monitor the performance of our process without having to collect samples for offline testing.

The biggest challenge faced by my team is…

Supporting urgent requests from the site such as process investigations, troubleshooting equipment, or system failures. During these times, my team needs to remain agile to cope with these unanticipated requests and reprioritize our planned work accordingly.

While challenging at times, I believe such situations are opportunities for us to grow and work better together as a team. On my part, I help with resource allocation to ensure timely completion and provide timely communication with stakeholders through regular updates.

Pharmaceutical manufacturing can be made more sustainable by…

Improving manufacturing and testing processes; and conserving resources. Globally, Novartis has set targets to drive sustainability through its operations.

This includes

  • Increasing efficiency and reducing testing through the implementation of Process Analytical Technology (PAT) for in-line and on-line testing for manufacturing processes
  • Adopting continuous processing in manufacturing
  • Optimizing and simplifying analytical test methods, and integrating systems to reduce time in data transcription, review and approval.

To reduce our carbon footprint, we are implementing state-of-the-art technologies with highest efficiency standards, exploring the installation of solar panels, tri-generation systems and maximize recycling of water and waste generated on site.

The biggest misconception the work my team does is probably…

That the identification testing of anomalies in real life is instantaneous, as depicted on TV shows such as Crime Scene Investigation (CSI).

In reality, identification testing requires multiple testing methods and techniques, which may take weeks or even months for complex materials. Data analysis and interpretation takes time too!

Since joining this industry, the biggest change I’ve noticed is…

The increasing trend in the adoption of single-use technologies. Process and Testing methods have improved over time with greater efficiency through the use of disposables and single-use technology. This has led to increased productivity with reduction in contamination, cost, time and resources. For example, single-use technology reduces the need for cleaning, cross-contamination during testing, and frees up time to allow personnel to perform more value-added activities.

In my opinion, the future of the industry is…

Digital technology in pharmaceutical manufacturing and increased automation in testing. It is heartening to see Novartis embrace digital transformation and explore Industry 4.0 techniques for manufacturing efficiencies.

Cheong Siew Fun is a Section Manager of Manufacturing Science and Technology Analytics at Novartis Singapore. She has 16 years of experience in pharmaceuticals manufacturing and a degree in BSc Pharmaceutical Management with Honors from the University of Bradford.

Click here for the complete issue.

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