AstraZeneca gives Nicole outstanding experience

Nicole Ward, a PhD student in the School of Biological Sciences studying the role of miRNA in Neural Crest development, wanted to gain experience of working in industry and understand the workings of a commercial lab, so used her PIPS placement help her achieve this.

Nicole spent her 12 week internship with AstraZeneca starting in September 2014, where she also hoped to gain awareness of the drug discovery process, learn about the practical application of research and assess whether she would be suited to a career in industry. She was tasked with a project to assess whether a specific compound has anti-oncogenic effects on a variety of prostate cancer cell lines to support previous findings from the lab. Nicole’s work included research and development maintaining seven prostate cancer cell lines whilst examining the effect of a compound on the viability, caspase activation and changes in gene expression across this panel of cell lines. In addition to this she was responsible for a large amount of analysis using programmes which she had never encountered previously including SpotFire and Graphpad.

During her stay at AstraZeneca Nicole also attended a two day drug discovery workshop and is now fully aware of the drug discovery process. The workshop included a competive task where delegates were put in syndicate teams and were asked to apply what they had learnt and select various drugs to pitch to investors. This task tested Nicole’s knowledge in the subject area, her team-working skills, presentation skills and to some extent sales ability. Nicole was selected to pitch for her team and they were awarded all the funds they applied for. At the end of the day Nicole’s team were deemed the winners.

Nicole also spent some time with one of AstraZeneca’s in-house lawyers and attended a talk on patent law, so now has more of an understanding of what this involves.

Of her placement, Nicole reflects “I obtained experience of working in industry and I now understand the workings of a commercial lab”. Nicole found the process very rewarding, and both her and her hosts felt the internship was highly successful. “The data I obtained will be used to support the progression of a compound through the drug discovery process into the next phase of development”, says Nicole. Molly Taylor, a postdoctoral scientist at AstraZeneca says “I would recommend other organizations host a PIPS intern because, in my experience, it provides intelligent talented individuals who are interested in gaining new skills. It was a great opportunity for a skilled individual to work on a project in the company”.

Nicole encourages students to make the most of their PIPS placement; “It’s an extremely useful opportunity so make good use of it and enjoy it”.