Usman Shabbir

What is the name of the company you work for and what do they do?

Roche is a global leader in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, with medicines in oncology, immunology, virology, ophthalmology and neurology. Founded in 1896, Roche has developed thirty medicines which are part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Model List of Essential Medicines, including Tamiflu and Valium.

What is your role within the company?

I spent one year working in the Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) department at Roche, I was part of a team developing novel pharmaceutical entities or the treatment of CNS diseases. Specifically, the project aim was to develop drugs towards treating and alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease via using Synthetic Organic Chemistry.

Can you give me an insight into a typical day?

While no two days were the same, I would typically set an my chemical reaction in the morning or even set it up to run overnight and monitor the progress of the reaction until complete. Then I would purify the reaction mixture to obtain high purity compounds and then perform structural and mass analysis to confirm the correct compound was obtained. I would then use it a successor reaction or it would be sent off for biological assay tests for potency and toxicity. The results of these tests would then be used to design the next batch of molecules to synthesise and this cycle would repeat until a promising drug candidate was selected.

What do you enjoy the most and do you get involved in any interesting projects?

I enjoy spending time in the laboratory working on synthetic organic chemistry to develop novel compounds that have the potential to be used as the next drug for treatment of unmet diseases. This motivated me to work harder and keep pushing through those days where it seemed like no reaction was working! My co-workers and supervisor in the lab were always very supportive and also great fun to work with. I also enjoyed my time at Roche in Switzerland as it allowed to me try skiing in the Alps for the first time which was amazing and I look forward to continuing this newly found hobby.

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

I wanted to spend a year in industry as I wanted to develop my practical chemistry skills but also because to see how it would be like working in industry since after completing my chemistry studies, research in industry is one option as well as staying in academia.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during the year?

I learnt to become significantly more pro-active in my synthetic chemistry laboratory work, designing synthetic routes to new compounds and then independently carrying out multi-step reactions to obtain the desired compound.

Has your experience given you a better idea of what you want to do for a career?

After my year in industry, I feel like working in a pharmaceutical research environment is definitely an option that I would consider in the future after completing my graduate studies and potentially after completing post-graduate PhD studies.