When Margaret Faul left Ireland for the US in 1987 to do a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry at Harvard, the Irish pharmaceuticals industry was still largely focused on late-stage drug development and manufacturing.
This has since changed but for Faul, whose big interest was the early stages of process development, Ireland couldn’t compete with the opportunities the US offered when she qualified.
“There’s a lot more diversity in pharma in Ireland now but in the late 1980s most of the early work was done in the US and this influenced my choice of where to go for my PhD,” Faul says. “I wanted to go into process development and to be involved from the identification of a clinical candidate through to commercialisation and manufacturing.
“The best opportunities to do this were in the US and studying at Harvard allowed me to start building my network and also my understanding of how the US pharma industry thought about things. I’ve certainly had career opportunities in the US I would never have had at home.”
Faul’s first job was with Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. She started out as a senior organic chemist and spent almost 11 years with the company before moving to Amgen in 2003 as an associate director based in Thousand Oaks, California.
Since then she has steadily climbed the ranks within the company and is now VP of the drug substance technology group and site head for Amgen Massachusetts. Before taking up this role late last year, she was VP for manufacturing and clinical supply supporting all of Amgen’s clinical studies.
“Drug development is extremely complex and you may work your way through 10,000 compounds over many years before you get to the one that provides the pharmaceutical benefit you want. Each molecule offers unique experiences in terms of how you would develop and commercialise it,” says Faul.
“So, initially you have the research phase. Then there’s the process development phase where the identified molecules are converted into medicines and subsequently manufactured and commercialised for delivery to patients.”
The company takes a ‘biology first’ approach to research and discovery which really appealed to me as a scientist
Amgen has four facilities in Ireland employing 1,250 people at locations in Dublin and Waterford. The company makes a broad range of drugs to treat serious illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and asthma. Its particular focus is on diseases with limited treatment options.
“Amgen is coming up to its 45th birthday, so it’s been a growing company since I joined it which has meant a lot of opportunities for me to develop in my career.
“The company takes a ‘biology first’ approach to research and discovery which really appealed to me as a scientist. It allowed me to explore the complex molecular pathways of diseases before determining what type of medicine (and how to take it) would be the most likely to deliver the best results safely for patients.
“As my career has progressed, I’ve supported drug development across all phases of the clinical and commercial process worldwide and have put a lot of time into helping to develop a ‘green’ chemistry culture within the company,” added Faul who is a former chairwoman of the board of directors of the International Consortium for Innovation and Quality in the pharmaceutical Industry.
“People usually change companies because they want to get different experience or exposure to other aspects of a business. I haven’t had to do this as there have been ample opportunities within Amgen to take on a variety of different roles that have kept me challenged and motivated.
“The company tends to rotate people every two to three years and in my new role I will be working across a number of different manufacturing facilities supporting drug substance manufacturing and commercialisation.
“I’ve also had opportunities not directly related to my job, such as mentoring interns which I’ve really enjoyed and I’ve contributed to the scientific world outside Amgen through academic papers and my involvement with external bodies such as the Enabling Technologies Consortium of which I am founder and past chair.”
There comes a point at which you accept that you’re settled away from home because your kids are so embedded in the US education system that it’s just not feasible to move them
Faul lives in California with her husband (they met through a mutual passion for running as teenagers) and her three sons. As a family that enjoys hiking, biking and camping, the climate on the west coast is ideal. For Faul, one of life’s greatest pleasures is hopping on her bike and cruising along the Pacific coast to the beach at Malibu. She also enjoys taking photos and putting them into albums for her kids, so they have a record of where the family went and when.
“From a work perspective, I’d say there are more similarities than differences between the US and Ireland but there are nuances; in Ireland, the family, friends and community network is probably a bit stronger. In the US, the work ethic is very intense and there’s less vacation time which can be a challenge when you have a young family.
“I am originally from Tralee and we both miss our families, but there comes a point at which you accept that you’re settled away from home because your kids are so embedded in the US education system that it’s just not feasible to move them.
“We also enjoy living in California and we’re a pretty grounded family, so we don’t get carried away by the ‘flaky’ fads you see around here. It can be very materialistic, so you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground and be mindful of what your values are.”