Venturing beyond the research lab

27 August 2020

The global medical conference circuit may have been closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But that is not stopping the crucial exchange of information about new treatments and drugs.

Dr Angela Tye-Galichet (Croucher Scholarship 2003) is one of those working to ensure that the wheels of knowledge continue to turn – but online.

She works in what she describes as medical education – the education that involves pharmaceutical companies in sharing knowledge of new drugs coming on to the market, with the medical profession. And instead of travelling the world from her home in London, UK, as she did as many as 20 times in a year, pre-COVID, the conferencing she participates as an account director for Chameleon Communications International happens digitally.

The switch has not been easy, but Tye-Galichet thinks it has done some good for both industry and practitioners. “I suspect clients and experts alike will start to realise and accept that a virtual advisory board meeting is no less productive than a physical one,” she said. “It saves them a lot of money and CO2 emissions.”

Previously, it was assumed that successful meetings had to be face to face, she said. But now that video conferencing has become normalised, those across the industry are, in fact, seeing more of each other. Distance, she said, is no longer an excuse.

Yet Tye-Galichet still looks forward to the return of her business travel, albeit on a smaller scale, because one element she has missed is the opportunity to observe the locality of treatment for universal diseases – how doctors from different countries talk about the same diseases but take different approaches to managing the conditions.

She gave the following example: “In Italy, diabetes is managed by general practitioners, massively reducing the load in secondary care. But in other countries, endocrinologists take the lead, in some countries cardiologists can manage it.”

Tye-Galichet speaks enthusiastically about her career in medical communications and education, and how that benefits from her background in scientific research.

After five years spent working on a PhD in genetics in London, and newly married, she had to make a choice. Her husband, a neuroscientist from France, and she, a geneticist from Hong Kong, decided that both of them staying in academia would make life difficult, such as moving every few years and maintaining different conference schedules.

So, Tye-Galichet decided to do what many academics find unappealing: find a “regular job” in applied science. First, she worked as an editor at a biological journal in London, which she thought would keep her at the forefront of science. But that first step failed to meet her expectations. She felt like she was “on a conveyor belt”, with little time to talk to the scientists.

On the advice of a recruiter, she then looked to the healthcare business, and joined a firm focused on advertising, medical education, and public relations. That also did not suit her, as she said she came up against moral barriers to selling some of the drugs in the portfolio. “I’m not the type of person who can sell something I don’t believe in,” she said.

A client then gave her the chance to help at a medical conference. “I got to see the slides and hear the experts talk. I saw the passion from the attendees,” she recalled. “I really understood the science, and how the data is translated into messaging to help healthcare professionals use the drug in suitable patients.

“This understanding helped me believe in a drug’s potential and, therefore, better understand the strategy in selling it.”

After that experience, Tye-Galichet decided on a career in medical education and communications. The work, she explained, involves using communication channels such as presenting at scientific advisory board meetings and conferences, creating training programmes, and engaging key opinion leaders to deliver their message as to why a product should be supported and can help their patients.

For most companies, this role is part of a broader medical communications agency. However, Tye-Galichet found Lucid, a boutique company that focused specifically on the educational side, a 50km daily commute from her London home.

“It’s a great feeling when on a Sunday afternoon you feel like, I’m ready to go back to work,” she said. “I’ve never looked back and thought have I made the right choice?”

But the jump from genetics research did not come without challenges. “Working in a business culture, with different structures, all types of people, [was] quite new for someone who came from academia – usually I just stayed in the lab,” she said.

Tye-Galichet has worked alongside other colleagues holding doctorates, but most are medical writers and not client facing. She recalls how one colleague commented on the advantage of her academic background, which meant she could better comprehend the science behind the conditions.

Her referencing skills have been another secret weapon to help her writer colleagues in putting together their conference slides, she said.

When asked about ever returning to the lab, she said: “I’m not sure if too many people have done it. If you have a stable income … you would be taking a step down to re-enter academia, at least in medical research.”

But she does not rule it out. If she were to return, she would dedicate her research to diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia that she has learned more about in her medical communications career.

Tye-Galichet also wants to assure scientists, and especially women, who want to leave academia but stay close to their background, that there are other options for them. The medical science liaison field is one.

Dr Angela Tye-Galichet completed her Bachelor of Science, majoring in Animal and Plant Biotechnology, in 2000, and Master’s degree in Microbiology in 2002, both at the University of Hong Kong. She went on to MRC National Institute for Medical Research, affiliated with University College London, to complete her PhD in 2006 in stem cell biology and developmental genetics, specifically researching conditional strategies to study gene function during mammalian sex determination. She has since worked in the UK in medical communications. She received her Croucher Scholarship in 2003. 

To view Dr Tye-Galiche's Croucher profile, please click here.