This is part two of an interview with Barinder Sandhu, discussing the pharmaceutical industry and the importance of empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM. For readers interested in Part One of the interview, it can be found here:

What advice would you give young women interested in pursuing a career in STEM?

I would advise that you have to be prepared to play the long game. The career progression might be slower initially, but ultimately there is longevity in it. I would also suggest helping to remove perceptions that the industry is a boy’s club. My initial experience when starting in STEM and the pharmaceutical sector was quite negative, and comments such as “this is a man’s world” were far too common. I eventually joined Pink Attitude, a non-profit organization with a mission to empower women to reach their full potential. This message strongly resonated with me, as I too had faced gender stereotypes when initially pursuing my career in STEM. 

I feel that I can share my own life learnings to help the next generation of women advance and realize their true potential. The word “potential” is the key. To me, you can look at potential as Recognize, Realize and Reach. You first start by helping women to recognize that they have talent and skills to succeed in the industry. You first start by helping women to recognize that they have talent and skills, then help them realize their talents and skills by learning how to apply them and finally, how to reach a level of confidence, influence, and/or mastery You then help them to apply this knowledge where applicable, until they reach a high level of confidence and mastery. 

One would need the right resources and support to break through the glass ceilings. The three Rs are a cyclic upward process of progression that can be adopted by anyone irrespective of job type.

What trends in the pharmaceutical industry are you most excited about?

“I am very excited when I see the convergence of traditional pharmaceuticals with ancient therapies such as homeopathic, ayurvedic, and botanical treatments like cannabis. I am also excited about advances in new therapies like immunotherapy. Covid-19 has given the pharmaceutical industry a real wake-up call on how novel viruses can cripple the world with no immediate treatment options available. The importance of having accurate and rapid testing diagnostic kits is another area in which Covid-19 has shown how ill-prepared we are.”

How do you balance your board commitments with your career?

“Strong organizational skills are instrumental to successfully balancing multiple objectives and deadlines. Since I have taken on more senior leadership roles, the demands to deliver have significantly increased, alongside my professional responsibilities. Time is of the essence, which requires a thoughtful but efficient and effective approach. Luckily, for me, it is not too difficult to strike this balance, and I always make sure that I am on top of various priorities.” 

How has the pharmaceutical industry evolved since you began your career?

“The industry has evolved from small molecules to complex molecules to biologics made from DNA.  In parallel, the method of delivery has become more sophisticated moving from simple formulations such as tablets, solutions to more complex formulations such as modified or rapidly dissolving tablets, encapsulated pellets and long-acting injectables.

However, I believe there will be a significant evolution in the form of personalized diagnostics and treatments. Patients now have increased access to medical information and unlimited digital resources. There once was a time when patients were strictly reliant on their healthcare professional to provide them with drug information. Now, a quick search on the internet will inform them of any potential risk factors, side effects, etc.

Simply put, patients are a lot savvier and more involved with their personal health now than ever before.  Patients can now engage in a conversation with their doctor; ‘I have heard treatment X is better than treatment Y’ or ‘I feel X,Y,Z symptoms and would like to be tested for A’. 

Diagnostic kits will only continue to evolve. Twenty years ago, there were very limited diagnostic kits; however, there have been huge advancements in diagnostics kits for early detection in colon or prostate cancer and most recently, Covid-19. This is an area that I believe patients will drive the need for innovation.” 

What impacts to the pharmaceutical industry do you foresee arising from COVID-19?

The short-term impact will most definitely be widespread drug shortages. While the need for specific drugs has increased, manufacturers are currently struggling to meet market demands. The supply chain disruptions have also inevitably led to increased production costs and as a result, higher drug prices. 

Long-term I predict a decline in research and development. The pharmaceutical industry will likely experience long-term profit reductions, ultimately slowing industry advancement.

What are your leadership attributes and your personal experiences that have allowed you to flourish in your personal and professional life?

“My childhood experiences and formal education provided me with a strong foundation to help me navigate the corporate landscape. Having a persuasive leadership style, strong project management skills, and an unwavering desire to invest in the development of people and their individualized strengths has enabled me to be successful in leading global teams handling complex projects.

While it is very satisfying to deliver projects and new business processes that are aligned to corporate goals, I find that the greatest satisfaction and (probably the most humbling), is when I witness the development of my team members, fellow associates, and colleagues.  Having trained them, and provided them with the opportunity to showcase their talents, seeing them succeed, is truly rewarding.

This aspect of my career has fueled my passion to give back to the community. I take pride in being able to relate to people while helping them reach their full potential.”