As the pharmaceutical industry is rapidly changing, many roles and relationships within it are going through a major transformation — the relationships between hospitals and Contract Research Organizations (CRO) are among these changes. This shift has resulted in a remarkably high demand for Clinical Research Associates and Medical Science/Clinical Trial Liaison roles that is not currently met due to a lack of qualified candidates. Our colleagues at the PRA Paris office have turned to academia to look for a solution, collaborating with universities and private educational institutions to establish completely new educational pipelines, create awareness among qualifying students, and help prepare new potential candidates for the industry.
Our Dr. Alexandre Malouvier, Scientific Affairs Director, Real World Solutions, explains:
In France, holding both an MS/PhD degree in life sciences and a Clinical Research certification is one of the qualifications for an entry-level position in the pharmaceutical industry, especially at a CRO. However, an increasingly large gap exists between qualified, highly educated English-speaking PhDs and Post-Docs and a fast-growing industry demand. This gap is largely due to suitable candidates being unaware of the career opportunities, as well as poorly established definitions for the newer roles. Our French colleagues have explored one way to close this gap — academic collaboration.
For the past five years, I have been collaborating with the Fundamental and Biomedical Sciences faculty at the Paris Descartes University, where I was elected to serve as board member. The faculty and its dean, Professor Charbel Massaad, wished to bridge the gap between education and real-world job opportunities by inviting professionals from throughout the industry to mentor their students. My colleagues and I have been participating in seminars and conferences advising students on potential career paths and current job opportunities. This close relationship provided PRA recruiters early access to promising graduates, which resulted in the hiring of two in-house CRAs and a new Clinical Trial Liaison, Dr. Ana Fernández Ramos.
The success of this collaboration between PRA and Paris Descartes University led to the creation of a new Clinical Research Diploma (comparable to a certificate in U.S. educational standards), followed a year later by the idea to establish the first Medical Science Liaison course in Europe. The latter has recently received approval and will begin as early as February 2019.
When the original idea for the Clinical Research curriculum involving the PRA staff was proposed internally at the PRA Paris office, it was quickly supported by management, which is not surprising given the unique PRA culture of encouraging entrepreneurship, agility and future-thinking. Throughout my career, I have worked for almost a dozen companies in this field, so I know firsthand that PRA’s culture is undeniably different. The support and encouragement we received for this initiative was unprecedented.
The four-month course was designed to include, in addition to the university faculty, speakers from different laboratories and PRA staff, including me, Associate Director of French Clinical Operations Céline Grunchec, Managers of Clinical Operations Johann Truccolo and Sylvain Delzenne and Audrey Reig from PRA’s Talent Acquisition. It also included representatives from our clients: Sanofi, Innothera, Roche, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Vertex and Nanobiotix, as well as consultants and members of the French Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM). Our colleagues shared their expertise on subjects ranging from clinical monitoring to CV review, practicing for job interviews and discussing real-world research.
In its first year, the course attracted 61 applicants, 12 of which were accepted. Eight alumni were able to successfully find a job in the industry upon graduation. This year, the number of applications has more than doubled, with 36 of the 130 applicants selected to join the class.
Clinical Research was not the only curriculum we had in mind: the initial title of the diploma was “Clinical Research Associate and Medical Science Liaison.” However, it quickly became apparent that the profiles for these two roles are too different to be paired together. It was decided to separate the curriculum and create a second course centered exclusively around the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role, which was approved by the University in October 2018.
During this two-week long course, MSLs from different companies will teach for one day, detailing their role and responsibilities, which can vary greatly across the industry. The MSL role in the world of CRO will be covered by our own Dr. Ana Fernández Ramos, whom PRA will be flying in from Barcelona to teach a class at her alma mater.
The initiative has great potential beyond France. Increasing demand for recruiting MSLs and CTLs for our clients combined with lack of formal training and commonly established definitions for the positions make the candidates hard to find and creates unawareness among prospective hires. That’s why the news that we had opened such a route in France was received with great enthusiasm. In fact, our European team is now exploring ways to replicate this initiative in other countries, and is currently trying to establish relations with universities in Leuven, Belgium, and Barcelona, Spain.
The Medical Science Liaison diploma is the first of its kind in France and in Europe. Bringing an initiative such as this to life shows a great commitment on the part of PRA to expand the industry’s capabilities and help to push it forward. As a company that depends on the most highly educated staff to fill so many of its roles, PRA undoubtedly understands the importance of collaboration with the academic world. Together, with the educators, we can help create awareness and pave a better, more relevant career path for future graduates in the life sciences field, some of whom might even end up joining our own company and bridging the demand gap our industry is beginning to experience more frequently.
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