A career in Biotech

Alumni from the School of Biomedical Sciences join leading pharmaceutical PhD Graduate Researcher Program that gives hands on experience in medicine and vaccine industry.

Madeline Nicholson and Upasna Varma both completed their undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne and PhD studies in the Department of Anatomy & Physiology – and were accepted into the GSK Graduate Researcher Program this year. With a total of 6 PhD graduates awarded each year, the 12 month placement aims to give the postdocs the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of what is involved in developing and commercialising medicines and vaccines and highlights the importance for universities to work closely with industry.

There are a vast number of PhD Graduate Researcher Programs on offer spanning research and industry. If you are mapping your research career or looking at your options beyond the Bachelor of Biomedicine explore the UniMelb Career Hub here.

Meet Madeline & Upasna

Madeline Nicholson

PhD (2021) Dept of Anatomy & Physiology

Madeline, a Neurobiologist, is passionate about biomedical research but wanted to learn how new medicines progress beyond development to reach market in Australia.

“I was curious about the “bench to boardroom” journey for a new medicine and seeing the impact for patients living with serious diseases,” she says.

Universities are excellent for generating new ideas and developing new technologies - and industry is great at turning those innovations into something that can benefit Australians at large. Careers weaving between sectors need to be normalised.

Now, as part of the graduate program, Madeline is working in a team at GSK that performs early-stage commercial assessments for a broad range of new pipeline assets, providing scientific and medical expertise to assist in understanding new therapy areas.

“Some of the questions we look at include what the disease landscape looks like in Australia, how patients are currently treated and how our new medicine might be beneficial to them.”

Already Madeline has had exposure to many learning and skills development opportunities and diversity of expertise among her colleagues as part of the graduate researcher program. She says the program has shifted her perspective and completely reshaped her career path.

“I have been exposed to a different working environment, one that is fast paced with cross-functional teams. It has broadened my understanding of the breadth of roles available in the pharmaceutical industry and given me an appreciation for how exciting and dynamic the journey to industry can be,” she says.

"Although I miss driving my own research and feeling the excitement at the forefront of a field, I really look forward to continuing my journey at GSK and seeing where the program takes me."

Madeline completed a Bachelor of Biomedicine in 2014, Honours through the Dept of Otolaryngology at the Bionics Institute and did her PhD studies in the Dept of Anatomy and Physiology at the School of Biomedical Sciences in 2021.

Upasna Varma

PhD (2017) Dept of Anatomy & Physiology

While Upasna loved her postdoctoral experience in the School of Biomedical Sciences, she wanted a role where she could go beyond the lab and see research translated into clinical outcomes.

“I wanted to learn and experience this stage of research translation – where a medicine is in market and patients lives have changed and outcomes have improved as a result of the treatment.”

Researchers at universities bring innovation, while industry brings the capability and know-how of commercialising and providing to those who need it. There is so much knowledge between the two spaces – it’s a shame not to share it.

As part of the graduate program and her new role at GSK, Upasna is working on two major projects in the GSK Australia Oncology Medical Affairs team. One is focused on delivering medical and competitor intelligence for the next phase of the Oncology pipeline and the second is supporting a brand team with a product heading to the Australian market by managing the compassionate access program.

Prior to joining GSK's program, Upasna worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Delbridge Lab and says the journey from academic to the pharmaceutical industry was a learning curve.

“The great thing about the program is that there’s so much scope to learn and contribute outside of your usual day-to-day – from joining a Medical Science Liaison on field visits, participating in a strategy session with a brand team, to managing a compassionate access program.”

Reflecting on what her next steps will be, Upasna's journey into industry has only just begun.

“The program has completely changed the progression of my career. One year is definitely not enough to figure out all the cogs in this machine! I am excited to learn more about the different positions, pathways and possibilities for my career within the pharmaceutical industry.”

Upasna completed a Bachelor of Science before doing Honours at the Florey Institute and Dept of Anatomy & Physiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences. Following on from this she completed her PhD in the Delbridge Laboratory, Dept of Anatomy & Physiology in 2017 and subsequently held a postdoctoral research fellow position there from 2019-2022.

About the GSK Graduate Researcher Program

The Program is supported by the Researcher Exchange and Development Within Industry (REDI) initiative, funded through the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

Find out more