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ImBlackInPharma | Clive Sowah

Clive Sowah- Research and Development Manager

What do you do?

I proudly operate as a Research and Development Project Manager and my role is like conducting a scientific orchestra. I am the one in charge of meticulous planning and budgeting for process development and clinical trial material supply of medicinal products. In simpler terms, I help turn groundbreaking ideas into life-changing medicines to save and improve lives.

In this capacity, I function as the glue that holds the diverse elements of our projects together, ensuring the efficient execution of early and late phase development. Mitigating risks and influencing key stakeholders is a delicate but essential aspect of my work, as it directly impacts the progress and success of our initiatives.

Nevertheless, my role extends beyond mere cohesion. I function as the playmaker in the world of pharmaceutical innovation, orchestrating moves that lead to transformative breakthroughs in medicine for patients globally.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

What I find exceptionally gratifying about my role is the profound sense of purpose that it carries. It’s the art of bringing together cross-functional teams, each member an expert in their domain, and collectively embarking on a journey through the intricate terrain of process and product development. This collaborative effort is akin to an orchestra where every instrument, from the strings to the percussion, plays a vital role in creating a symphony of progress.

The challenges we face along this path are diverse and often daunting. Yet, they are our steppingstones to growth and innovation. These challenges are like puzzles, complex and multifaceted, waiting to be solved through the prism of science and data. But what truly fuels my passion is the knowledge that our endeavours are not confined to sterile laboratories or boardrooms. They have a tangible and life-altering impact on patients and their families. It’s the realization that our work contributes to improving the quality of life, offering hope, and even saving lives.

In this realm, motivation is never in short supply. It’s the driving force that propels us forward, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It’s the belief that, through our dedication and expertise, we can overcome any obstacle and pave the way for a brighter and healthier future.

So, what I cherish most about my role is not just the science or the data; it’s the profound impact we have on humanity. It’s the knowledge that we are architects of change, shaping the course of pharmaceutical innovation, and leaving a legacy that extends far beyond our immediate horizons. It’s a privilege, a responsibility, and a source of boundless motivation.

How did you get into Pharma?

Fast forward a few years to my graduation cap flying in the air, as I celebrated with friends and family. I was swiftly humbled by a highly competitive job market around the time of the “noughties” credit crunch. Entry level roles were in short supply, and it felt like recruiters were looking for 10+ years of experience and a PhD just to get my foot in the door.

After many months of “unfortunately you were not successful” emails, I headed to Accra to visit my parents and regroup with a nice change of scenery. Whilst brainstorming on how to improve my employability with friends and family, I was able to tap into their network and engage with executives and managers at 2 pharmaceutical companies in Accra. These conversations lead to interviews for internships at both companies for 4 months each.

I gained valuable experience of commercial manufacturing of rare antiretroviral tablets as well as more generic formulations, like cough syrups and anti-malarial capsules. I also learned how to test raw materials and finished products to EU and USP standards. I completed Good Manufacturing Practice course organised by the USP Centre of Pharmaceutical Advancement in Africa which brought me upto date with latest cGMP standards as well as rubbing shoulders with industry leaders from across Africa.

It was a life changing experience that I have fond memories of and led me back to the UK to complete an MSc in Pharmaceutical Analysis at Kingston University, which came with the opportunity for an industrial placement. With my initial experience and further qualifications, I applied and finally received one the best emails ever “Congratulations, for your successful application!” I had finally got my foot in the door at one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Why Pharma?

From a young age, I have always had a passion for science and nature and so I spent my time in secondary school in Accra, Ghana, preparing to become a medical doctor like my dad. It wasn’t till I passed out in the operating theatre during an early morning work shadowing session, that I realised the blood and gore, as well as the anti-social hours were not for me.

As I was licking my wounds in the pharmacy, I was intrigued by all the different types of medications. From tablets in all shapes colours and sizes to shelfs of amber vials and bottles waiting to be sub-dispensed, my mind was riddled with questions.

Where did they come from? What do they do? Who made them? How do they work? Who needs what, and most importantly how can I help? Embarrassment and rejection were reformulated into redirection, and I enrolled at the University of Greenwich to pursue a degree in pharmaceutical sciences to try and find out the answers.

What has your experience been being #BlackInPharma?

I feel blessed to have enjoyed a fruitful career in the pharmaceutical industry so far. I have worked on billion pound assets and treatments for rare diseases to help patients across Africa, Europe, Asia and America and built a rich and diverse network at all levels. I have gained experience as a GMP scientist, senior process development engineer and R&D project manager involving many lateral moves and a few diagonal promotions. I've worked with charities to raise almost half a million pounds to provide education and medication for improved sanitation for local communities in the most remote parts of the world.

Despite all the peak memories, there have been many trials and tribulations along the journey. Being #BlackInPharma often meant navigating a field where representation of Black professionals has historically been limited. A wise woman once said “you can’t be what you can’t see” (Marian Wright Edelman) and early on in my career I struggled to find mentors that looked me at the executive level I was aspiring to. Either they were at the right level but couldn’t relate to the cultural nuisances and challenges or vice versa. Eventually through an internal networking and mentoring program organized by the company Employment Resource Group, I found a mentors that have ticked all the boxes and helped nurture my skillset and accelerate my career progression.

After the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020 myself and Ali, a good friend and fellow scientist from Kingston University were inspired to help make a change in our community. Several months passed of filling in petitions, sharing social media posts, and debating on whether to attend protests in the middle of a pandemic; in that time, we were inspired to start a movement to celebrate Black Scientific Excellence. It started as a way to spread positivity within the community whilst drawing attention to the ever-important topics of racial and social inequity.

This led to the birth of Vanta STEM, an organisation focused on nurturing the next generation in STEM to achieve excellence, beyond the limitations of racial and social inequity. We serve our community as leaders in networking, mentoring, public speaking and mindset and employability training. We have an exciting collaboration coming up with Black Pharma and really look forward to engaging with you soon.

Top tips to getting into your role / Pharma?

Breaking into Research and Development (R&D) Project Management within the pharmaceutical industry is a journey filled with opportunities and rewards. Whether you're just starting or looking to transition into this dynamic field, here are key steps to guide your path.

1. Build a Strong Educational Foundation:

Begin by establishing a solid educational background. Fields such as pharmaceutical sciences, biology, chemistry, or project management provide a strong starting point. While a bachelor's degree is often the minimum requirement, consider pursuing a master's or even a PhD for added advantage.

2. Gain Valuable Industry Experience:

Getting your foot in the door often begins with entry-level roles in pharmaceutical research, development, or quality control. These positions offer valuable insights into the industry's operations, challenges, and culture.

3. Cultivate a Robust Network:

Networking is a cornerstone of success in any industry. Attend pharmaceutical conferences, join relevant associations, and connect with professionals on platforms like LinkedIn. A strong network can lead to mentorship opportunities and open doors to career advancement. Being an active member of Black Pharma & Vanta STEM is a great start.

4. Invest in Project Management Certifications:

To demonstrate your project management skills, consider acquiring certifications like Project Management Professional (PMP), Association for Project Management (APM) or PRINCE2. These credentials can boost your credibility and marketability in the field.

5. Develop Essential Power Skills:

Project management is not just about technical know-how. Power skills such as effective communication, leadership, problem-solving, and adaptability are equally vital. Cultivate these skills to excel in your role.

In conclusion, breaking into R&D Project Management in the pharmaceutical industry is an attainable goal with the right preparation and perseverance. By focusing on education, experience, networking, certifications, and soft skills development, you can position yourself for a fulfilling and successful career in this dynamic field. Stay persistent, continue learning, and remain open to opportunities – your journey awaits.

Fun fact

When I'm not immersed in the world of pharmaceutical R&D Project Management, I embark on thrilling adventures that blend my passions for nature, travel, and capturing the wild in its element. From the vibrant jungles of Ghana, where I've observed the playful antics of baboons, to the rugged terrain of Ethiopia, where moonlight encounters with enigmatic hyenas have left me spellbound.

Venturing into Morocco's desert landscapes, I've had close encounters with some of the world's most fascinating snakes, uncovering their secrets. I’ve also witnessed the remote beauty of Skomer Island, Wales, to capture the delightful puffins in their natural habitat.

My drone is a constant companion, allowing me to view these mesmerizing scenes from a unique perspective. Beyond mere photography, these experiences offer a profound connection with Earth's most captivating corners, reminding me of the wonder and beauty that exists beyond the boardroom and laboratory. So, while I navigate the complexities of project management by day, I savor the wild, adventurous moments that fuel my spirit, one drone flight at a time.


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