Columns Stories from Scientists

10 Women, 10 Questions: Annesha Dutta

Ankita Rathore

Annesha Dutta, Specialist-Quality Operations, Novartis Hyderabad, brings extensive experience from pharmaceutical Quality Control and Assurance roles, emphasising curiosity-driven transitions and the value of seizing diverse opportunities within the healthcare industry. Annesha also shares advice and resources for master’s and PhD students who want to transition into an industry role.

10 Women, 10 Questions: Annesha Dutta
10 Women, 10 Questions: Annesha Dutta 

1) You recently shifted to a new role as a Quality Operations — Specialist at Novartis, Hyderabad. Can you tell me more about your work?

I commenced my professional journey in the industrial sector at Panacea Biotech in Chandigarh, where my role centred on Quality Control. Subsequently, I transitioned to Kemwell Biopharma Pvt. Ltd. in Bengaluru, where I embarked on a new phase within the Quality Assurance department.

I bring a wealth of experience in the healthcare sector, with a strong focus on pharmaceuticals, primarily in the domains of Quality Control and Quality Assurance. In my role in Quality Control, I’ve been responsible for overseeing various laboratory-based activities, including drug quality testing, ensuring compliance with regulatory guidelines, conducting laboratory validations, and implementing stringent compliance measures. My responsibilities within Quality Assurance have centered on upholding comprehensive quality standards, including safety, identity, strength, purity, and the overall quality of the products.

Currently, I am part of Novartis AG team, where my tasks entail managing product-related market complaints and handling of product recalls.

2) What inspired you to pursue a career in pharmaceutical industry?

To start with, it’s essential to know that my passion for science, particularly life sciences, has been a constant in my life. You could easily label me as a curious cat” when it comes to this field. Before a career in pharmaceutical industry, in my academic journey, I pursued a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences from University of Delhi, and then a Master’s in Biotechnology from South Asian University (SAU), New Delhi. Following the standard path, I also delved into a career in academic research.

    But I always wanted to explore the industrial side of biotechnology. What intrigued me the most was the idea that the research conducted at the lab-bench could directly impact the lives of everyday people.

    3) What does your typical work day look like?

      In healthcare industry, a typical workday for me adheres to the conventional 9am to 6pm schedule. When, I was working in the Quality Control domain, my day was primarily centred on wet-lab operations, which involved cell culture practices and molecular biology testing. On the other side, my role in Quality Assurance provided me with the flexibility to work from various locations. In my present position at Novartis, I enjoy the flexibility to work according to my schedule, allowing me to explore remote work options. Additionally, Novartis has provided me with a platform to engage with individuals on a global scale.

      4) Coming from a background in biomedical sciences and biotechnology, you made the deliberate choice to veer away from an academic path and venture into the industry. How did you decide to make this transition?

        Much like many other industries, the pharmaceutical sector offers a diverse array of roles and domains for individuals to explore. These include areas like production (drug manufacturing), quality &integrity, regulatory authorities, and supply chain management to name just a few. 

        To answer your question, as I mentioned earlier, my insatiable curiosity about the industrial dimension of biotechnology led me to gravitate towards the industrial facet of pharmaceutics and the manufacturing industry in general. It was a deliberate choice to explore this path, driven by my fascination with how things are made in this field.

        5) What advice would you offer to fresh masters graduates in life science who want to pursue a non-traditional career path?

          It’s a recognised issue that our education system, especially at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, tends to downplay the industrial aspects of drug manufacturing. The guidelines, specifications, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) followed in this critical process often receive inadequate attention. Also, the journey of a drug product, from wet lab research to large-scale industrial production, and its ultimate distribution with a focus on patient safety and well being, often remains a gap in our educational coverage.

          To all the aspiring young individuals in the field of life sciences, I offer this advice: 

          Cultivate your curiosity and dare to step beyond the conventional career paths. 

          The healthcare industry is expansive, brimming with a multitude of uncharted opportunities waiting to be explored.

          6) Are there any specific training programs or workshops you would recommend to help life sciences masters and PhD students to transition and adapt to the industry environment? 

            In the current scenario, several notable healthcare organisations are actively embracing and welcoming candidates who are eager to jumpstart their careers. Here are a few recommendations tailored to assist life sciences master’s and PhD students in their transition to the industry environment:

            • Biotech Industrial Training Program (BITP): Offered by Biotech Consortium India Limited (BCIL)and sponsored by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), BITP is an intensive industrial internship program lasting six months. To qualify, candidates typically undergo a written evaluation followed by an interview.
            • Industry-Sponsored Internship Programs: Established entities like Biocon Biologics, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Novartis AG, and many others offer structured internship programs. These programs provide candidates with valuable insights into the various aspects of the industry, including drug product manufacturing, medical device production, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and related industry operations.
            • LinkedIn and social media: In the digital age, the influence of social media is undeniable. LinkedIn, in particular, stands out as a promising platform for career development. It offers a plethora of relevant and up-to-date information, making it an excellent resource for networking, industry trends, and even discovering workshops/​training opportunities. 
            7) What role does networking play while transitioning to industry?

            Absolutely! In the current landscape, effective networking is the pivotal factor for achieving success in whatever you wish to do. Showcasing your skill set openly and engaging with the right individuals will not only expand your horizons but also significantly enhance your chances of securing ideal opportunities.

            During my transition from core research to the industrial sphere, the notable obstacle I encountered was the lack of the right kind of advice and guidance. 

            Effective mentorship and access to appropriate platforms influence the way we perceive the access to the healthcare industry.

            8) In academia, the focus is often on research and publications. How does the company evaluate and measure success for employees in industrial roles?

            When it comes to evaluating and measuring success for employees in industrial roles, it’s a bit like a buffet – it depends on the company’s business appetite at the moment!

              In the pharmaceutical sector, as in many other industries, the driving force would be the pursuit of profits, and expansion of opportunities. Therefore from an employee’s standpoint, success in an industrial role can be assessed through various factors, including meeting project goals, contributing to product development, adhering to quality standards, and demonstrating adaptability and problem-solving abilities.

              9) During this entire journey, what do you consider your biggest successes? What have these taught you?

              I’d venture to say that the grand finale is still waiting in the wings! But, my ability to adapt and remain focused on my core aspirations has always been my driving force. While there’s still much to explore and learn, my unquenchable curiosity remains at the heart of it all.

              Lastly but by no means least, the ability to pursue my passion is owed entirely to the constant support and belief my beloved family has in me. Thriving in the pursuit of science, especially finding my niche within the pharmaceutical industry, has unquestionably posed its fair share of challenges. Nonetheless, now that I savour the sweet fruits of those efforts, I’m nothing short of thrilled to continue my journey within the healthcare sector and leave a distinctive impact of my own.

              10) What is the best advice you have received?

                The best advice I’ve ever received is to stay as flexible as a contortionist in a yoga class and pounce on every opportunity that dares to tap on your doorstep!