By Ken Liljegren
I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition in sunny San Diego last month. Many scientists in my department want to “go to AAPS,” but money is scarce and just a few get to go and we have to argue every year for a budget to go.
I typically make a department presentation when I get back, to show what I learned. When I do that, it reveals which programs were really useful and which were a waste to attend. Typically, I need concrete takeaways that I can convey when I return. Longwinded, generic talks don’t make it for me. Presentations with an actual example—it doesn’t matter if the drug is anonymized as compound X—are by far the most useful ones at the AAPS annual meeting.
For example, I was at the Quotient Clinical Ltd. user group meeting and heard a good real-life example on gastro-retentive slow-release tablets by scientists from Merck. The scientist conveyed the actual obstacles identified during development, instead of just having a generic list of “beware of X, Y and Z.” Another example was the Design and Control of API Powder Properties symposium, where better ways to control drying were described. Examples were shown of APIs that balled up during drying and how the problem was fixed.
My first AAPS annual meeting, back in 1997, was a revelation for me. I come from a chemical engineering background, and for me, the annual meeting was a jumpstart into the pharmaceutical world. The dull theory I read about in books was brought to life in symposia. I could stroll around the exhibition and see all the excipient and machinery manufacturers. The introductory level symposia, and particularly the sunrise sessions, made entry into pharma easier and more fun.
Now I am part of the programming selection process for future events, and by nature this is mostly done by experienced people. I believe it is important we all remember that each annual meeting has a large number of rookie attendees, and so we need to keep programming that is “how to” in nature and don’t just do “latest research” programs.
A huge advantage is the networking possible at the annual meeting. You may plan to meet fellow scientists, or you may bump into somebody who is working on the same line of research as you.
A very productive way to increase networking opportunities is to attend some of the focus group meetings. Don’t be shy; just walk in and have a look. The focus group will love to have new people attend and, even better, volunteer for work in the group. It is like your soccer club back home: it is a great way to meet people and you can volunteer for posts with limited workload, like newsletter editor.
I did so a while ago in the Excipients Focus Group, and now I am part of its leadership team.
I also see students getting a great benefit from this. They attend a group or section meeting and have easy access to experienced people in their field.
We Scandinavians enjoy that the annual meeting is often set in southern locations, and it makes networking more pleasant. An afternoon walk on the beach with a fellow attendee is another great way to network, or you can meet up for dinner later with new friends.
In the end, development of pharmaceuticals is an expensive business. So if the AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition helped you even slightly as a pharmaceutical scientist, and you can put the new knowledge into more robust or better formulations, the expense of going is surely worth it.