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Techniques & Tools Pharma & Biopharma, Professional Development, Mass Spectrometry, Liquid Chromatography

Those Who Can, Teach: Pharma Stars

In recent years, the complexity of molecules and delivery technologies used in the pharmaceutical industry has increased dramatically. Antibody–drug conjugates, polymer-conjugated small and large molecules, PLGA (poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid)) and hydrogel long-acting delivery products are just a few examples that illustrate this trend. For analytical chemists employed in the pharmaceutical industry, measurements related to new drug candidates and delivery technologies are becoming increasingly complex, and the challenges are even greater when the measurements need to be performed reliably in biological fluids. It is clear that the pharmaceutical industry of the future will demand analytical scientists with training at the highest level.

The scientific literature is rich in technical reports on new drug substances, new delivery technologies, and new analytical tools to support drug discovery and development – but discussions on how to teach future analytical scientists to navigate this constantly evolving landscape are notably lacking. The increasing use of highly complex medicinal products will also complicate bioanalysis outside the pharmaceutical industry, such as in hospital laboratories, analytical contract laboratories, forensic toxicology laboratories, and doping laboratories. 

Our new course in advanced bioanalysis – “Bioanalysis: Forefront technologies and applications” – organized at the University of Oslo, Norway, has multiple objectives: to emphasize the importance of high-level teaching in analytical chemistry, to share our philosophy and experiences, and to encourage the development of similar activities elsewhere. Here, we present the perspectives of both teachers and students to shed light on the theory, practice and reality.

Why Oslo?

Although we have a pharmaceutical industry in Norway, Oslo is not considered a “pharma hub” – nevertheless, we have been actively involved in bioanalysis-related research for decades, and in addition have extensive experience of writing international textbooks in the field of pharmaceutical chemical analysis, bioanalysis, and chromatography (1–3). Our bioanalysis course is in the cross-section between research and teaching, and experiences from both are important to maintain a high quality.

Our bioanalysis course is in the cross-section between research and teaching, and experiences from both are important to maintain a high quality.
Creating the course

The course was designed in close collaboration between teachers at the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Chemistry, both of which have a focus on bioanalytical research; by involving teachers across institutional barriers, we were able to build a highly experienced team. The course was organized as a 5 ECTS credit program (60 ECTS credits corresponds to one year of full study) with full-day lectures and discussions. Most of the 17 participants were PhD students, but postdocs and senior engineers also took part. As teaching was open for national and international students, we decided to organize a one-week course rather than spread it over a more extended time period.

First, we defined the learning outcome (see Box 1). Defining a framework keeps teaching relevant and focused, especially when several teachers are involved  (see Box 2). Although many different analytical techniques are used in the pharmaceutical industry, we focused on liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) – the workhorse for bioanalysis. We also covered sample preparation, which plays a vital role in LC-MS-based bioanalysis. Within the cross-institutional team of teachers (senior staff), we have substantial in-house research experience in sample preparation, LC, and MS. 

Box 1. Learning outcomes.

The course will give the students in-depth knowledge on:

  • Trends in bioanalytical chemistry
  • New technologies in bioanalytical chemistry
  • New applications in bioanalytical chemistry
  • How to present bioanalytical research in scientific papers
  • How to present bioanalytical research in oral communication

Box 2. Course framework.

  • Focus on sample preparation, liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry
  • Cutting-edge technologies
  • New applications
  • Scientific presentation skills
  • Flavor of the state-of-the-art
  • Teaching is based on scientific papers not older than one year
  • Small technical details are not important
  • Papers are presented by students and teachers
  • The course is suitable for international participation

At such a high level, there are no textbooks available, so teaching has to be anchored in scientific papers and experience; selecting appropriate and high quality papers was therefore critical. We discussed all papers within the team before they were included in the final program, ultimately selecting 26 papers for the 2017 course as part of five hot topic areas (see Box 3). The papers were chiefly from 2017, but included some from 2016. The senior staff presented 12 of the hot topic papers, while the remaining 14 papers were presented by the students (see Assessment below). 

Communication skills

Each presentation was 20 minutes, followed by a 10-minute critical discussion of the paper. For some sessions the students discussed scientific questions relevant to the day’s hot topic in groups, giving them valuable experience in more informal scientific discussions. We discussed the technical details – after all, we were aiming for an understanding of the principles and major pros and cons of new technologies and applications, hopefully better equipping the students to critically evaluate technology for potential implementation in the pharma industry. But, perhaps more importantly, we focused on giving a flavor of recent progress in the field, which gave it a “conference feel.”

We emphasized that following the scientific literature is the best way to stay up-to-date in analytical chemistry at the highest level. Therefore, we critically appraised the technical aspects of the papers, but also focused on clarity of presentation – both orally and in writing – emphasizing the responsibility of scientists to contribute to the scientific literature. We organized three one-hour panel discussions on the following subjects, the first focused on oral presentations, and the latter two on scientific publication:

  • How to prepare a good lecture
  • How to write a good scientific paper
  • How to communicate with editors and reviewers

Several of the senior staff have journal editing responsibilities, and were able to discuss the peer review process from both author and editor perspectives. Group work was linked to the panel discussions, where the students reviewed several research papers.

Box 3. Course topics.

For the course syllabus we selected papers across hot topics:

  • Liquid chromatography
  • Applied mass spectrometry/ ionization
  • Sample preparation
  • Small-molecule applications
  • Protein applications
  • Scientific presentations
Several of the senior staff have journal editing responsibilities, and were able to discuss the peer review process from both author and editor perspectives.
Course assessment

To pass the course, the students have to fulfill the following requirements in addition to their active participation during the one-week course in Oslo:

Prepare a 20-min oral presentation of a hot topic paper (prior to course)

Prepare a 10-min oral presentation about their PhD research (prior to course)

Complete one of the following duties after the course (post-course work):

  • Write a short bioanalysis-related article for a national chemistry or pharmacy journal
  • Give a bioanalysis-related lecture at a national meeting
  • Review a research paper for one of the other course participants, prior to journal submission

The 10-min oral presentations on each students PhD research were scheduled for the first day of the one-week course, to get to know each of the students and their work. The post-course work is organized as an alternative to an exam, and is mandatory for the 5 ECTS credits.

Student feedback

Feedback from students is always important when evaluating a teaching program. Each day, we asked students to submit any feedback on post-it notes. Based on this feedback, we made adjustments during the course to optimize the learning outcome and atmosphere. In addition, we asked three students (Øystein Skjærvø, Veronika Pilařová, and Maria Khalikova) to contribute their opinions to this article, in accordance with the feedback notes. They summarized the positive points about the course as follows: 

“Very friendly atmosphere, not focusing too much on differences between students and teachers.”

“We found discussion – not only with teachers, but also between students – to be extremely beneficial as part of the learning process.”

 “This course was arguably different (from other university courses) as it was more focused towards innovation and 
the recent advancements within biological analyses.”

“The Chinese proverb ‘I hear and forget, I see and remember, I do and understand’ explains why many theoretical courses are less productive and less effective and why we are so impressed by the Bioanalysis course at the University of Oslo.”

The cons and recommendations for potential improvements were chiefly related to lectures on techniques students were not familiar with, and the intense workload during the one-week course:

“Preparing an oral presentation about a scientific article was a very challenging task for those of us who do not work in this particular field.”

“Papers might be selected more carefully; allowing students to receive new knowledge but also giving opportunity to share their own experiences, tricks and tips.”

“The timing of this particular course was exceptionally tight.”

What’s next?

Our first PhD course in advanced bioanalysis was an experiment, and we believe a successful one; the need for training at the highest level in bioanalysis is continuously increasing and there was definite interest in the course. We have therefore decided to arrange it biannually, adjusting according to student feedback. Though it will remain the same in terms of the course framework and learning outcomes, papers for student presentation will be selected more carefully and in agreement with each student, and the time schedule will be a little less compacted. 
Although the majority of students this time were Norwegian, in future, we will welcome international students in addition to the local ones – to emphasize that, in the field of bioanalysis, there are no national borders. We prioritize a friendly atmosphere, because this stimulates learning and collaboration.

For further information, see the course webpage

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the STARSS project (Reg. No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000465) co-funded by ERDF.

Affiliations

Øystein Skjærvø – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
Veronika Pilařová – Department of Analytical Chemistry, Charles University, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic
Maria Albertovna Khalikova – Department of Analytical Chemistry, Charles University, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic
Leon Reubsaet – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway
Trine Grønhaug Halvorsen – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway
Astrid Gjelstad – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway
Elisabeth Leere Øiestad – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway
Elsa Lundanes – Department of Chemistry, University of Oslo, Norway
Steven Wilson – Department of Chemistry, University of Oslo, Norway
Stig Pedersen-Bjergaard – School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway, and Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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  1. SH Hansen et al., Introduction to Pharmaceutical Chemical Analysis, Wiley: 2012.
  2. SH Hansen et al., Bioanalysis of Pharmaceuticals, Wiley: 2015.
  3. E Lundanes et al., Chromatography, Wiley-VCH: 2014.
About the Authors
Øystein Skjærvø

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


Veronika Pilařová

Department of Analytical Chemistry, Charles University, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.


Maria Albertovna Khalikova

Department of Analytical Chemistry, Charles University, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.


Leon Reubsaet

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway.


Trine Grønhaug Halvorsen

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway.


Astrid Gjelstad

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway.


Elisabeth Leere Øiestad

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway.


Elsa Lundanes

Department of Chemistry, University of Oslo, Norway.


Steven Wilson

Department of Chemistry, University of Oslo, Norway.


Stig Pedersen-Bjergaard

School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway, and Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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