Robert Allen

BSc (Hons) PhD
Medical Science Liaison

I studied at Collyer’s for 4 years in total, between 2004 and 2008. I repeated my A levels due to homelessness as a result of coming from a broken home, which inevitably affected the quality of my grades during my first attempt. I re-enrolled after moving to the local YMCA homeless shelter in Horsham also known as the “Y Centre,” which provided relative “stability” in order for me to complete my studies. My first attempt at A levels was Biology, Chemistry and Design Technology and my second attempt Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Design Technology.

Coming from a difficult background my goal was quite simple, to try and leverage my interest and drive in studying the subject of Science that is Biology, coupled with career opportunities open to me to provide me with the means to progress in life such as by becoming as a scientist.

While living at the Y centre, and supporting myself on Income Support Benefit, there were several instances where Collyer’s supported my education beyond simply providing an education. I mention this because this additional support helped me a lot and I wish I had known more about the extra support Collyer’s could provide students in my position.

After leaving Collyer’s I accepted a Biology Apprenticeship for 4 years at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) in Horsham, West Sussex. While at Novartis I obtained my BSc Hons in Applied Biological Sciences from the University of Surrey, following part-time study. The degree was fully sponsored as part of the apprenticeship scheme there.

I then did my PhD for 4 years in Cardiovascular Pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London followed by a 5-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Massachusetts general Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA.

I am currently a Medical Science Liaison, which is a role within the field of Medical Affairs as part of the pharmaceutical industry. Specifically, I work for The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson providing scientific support on the rare cardio-pulmonary disease, Pulmonary Hypertension.

I have made a difference as I have spent an entire career performing preclinical pharmacological research, either developing new treatments via pharmaceutical drug discovery or through bench research improving the understanding of diseases. Although I am under no illusions that my contribution is extremely small relatively speaking, I feel like I have helped move medical science forward.

My current work means that I interact and support or collaborate directly with doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc. who treat patients. This is as close to patients as I have gotten, and I feel like this work makes a huge positive influence on patients’ lives.

I have contributed to work that has helped develop novel therapies for diseases, as part of drug discovery teams working within the pharmaceutical industry, conducted preclinical research improving the understanding of cardio-pulmonary and neurodegenerative diseases and provided scientific support to healthcare professionals that treat patients with a rare cardio-pulmonary disease, pulmonary hypertension.

In terms of my day it is a mix of travelling and working remotely. I attend a lot of meetings, either in-person or virtually. These are either company internal meetings to receive training or updates to organisational/strategy information or externally which are the most important meetings visiting healthcare professionals in hospitals or virtually to discuss ways I can support, collaborate, or educate them on the disease I work on. Finally, there is attending international or national scientific or medical conferences to learn of the latest breakthroughs in the field. Overall, my job consists of speaking to healthcare professionals, building relationships with them, learning what their needs are and taking those insights back to the company and determining if there are opportunities for us to help support or collaborate on projects that will have a positive influence on clinical practice. Furthermore, I am to keep up to date with the latest changes to clinical practice, the latest breakthroughs in scientific and clinical research, and if needed educate healthcare professionals on the disease I work in i.e. improve disease awareness.

I love my job as I am being paid to learn; reading the latest scientific or medical publications, just be scholarly in general and speaking to the UK’s top experts in the field I work in, thus being intellectually challenged. I enjoy meeting with and getting to speak to doctors, nurses or pharmacists who are really committed to their field. I love performing work where I am trying to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

The skills needed to do my job require a scientific acumen; ability to absorb, understand and learn scientific and clinical knowledge quickly and accurately. Presentation skills are key including speaking clearly, and concisely and ensuring the audience leaves with the right take-home message. Organisational skills such as project planning and time management are necessary also. People skills too for example networking and emotional and behavioural intelligence.

For someone looking to get into a similar role you need to network where possible e.g. professional organisations, conferences, and university groups. Carry out any on the job training by joining any department in the pharmaceutical industry and moving across e.g. medical affairs, market access, regulatory or marketing.

Looking back, the advice I would give to a younger me is learn what support is available at Collyer’s and use it as much as possible. The same for university.

What next Robert? Some type of scientific leadership role within Medical Affairs, but TBD