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Working at GlaxoSmithKline: A process engineer’s perspective

David Lai_Microfluidics

David Lai applies microfluidic droplets for pharmaceutical secondary manufacturing with GSK where he splits his responsibilities between the departments of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, Product and Process Engineering, and Drug Design and Selection. We spoke to him about his work.

What drew you to your area of research?

My Biomedical Engineering undergraduate curriculum exposed me to a diverse field where I learned that no matter an individual’s scientific background, there was a need for breaththroughs that extend the duration of life and/or increase the quality of life for others. I felt that the big breathroughs in the future would likely come from approaching age-old challenges from a drastically different perspective in an interdisciplinary manner.

I liked how circuit designs in Electrical Engineering could be heavily modelled through computation and the modular nature of electrical components allowed for the expression of creativity in circuitry design. However, the electrons flow too fast for me to see and, as the expression goes, seeing is believing. At this pivotal stage of my education, I was exposed to the field of microfluidics. Here, I found a community of scientists where a large subset shared similar affections for Electrical Engineering, and also had the same anxiety of not seeing what we are doing. I knew then that this area of science is where I belonged, and that if I had to give up one of my five senses, sight would be the last to go!

What attracted you to work at GlaxoSmithKline?

Like many who embark on the grand pursuit of a PhD, I aspired to be a professor and to teach like my father, mother, uncle, and grandfather before me. However, during my PostDoc training, I had the opportunity to work for GlaxoSmithKline. I was attracted by the opportunity to impact people on a global scale and to help people feel better and live longer. I wanted to be part of a team that bears the responsibility to design and deliver the material that sustains a healthy life for some, to ease and maximize a person’s last days, and perhaps finally a cure for an age-old affliction. I felt and still feel lucky for the opportunity to apply my PhD work to impact people on a global scale, and it happened to be for the company that is leading in its commitment to improve access to medicines for everyone. It was an opportunity I could not refuse.

I still harbor aspirations to teach. It does, afterall, run in my family. I think of my career at GSK like an extremely long PostDoc. I’d like to return to academia before my career ends. I hope my future department chair will also see value in a professor with a heavy amount of industry experience.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Microfluidics has multiple unique applications in the pharmaceutical industry from high-throughput screening to manufacturing. Although I am in manufacturing, I also consult on microfluidics for high-throughput screening. Even in manufacturing, there are diverse applications for microfluidics towards different types of primary and secondary manufacturing (the process of turning raw ingredients into the active ingredient, and then into a consumable form). My typical day involves collaborating with my internal colleagues and external academics to address all of these aspects. With limited capacity however, I have to prioritise certain projects depending on their impact and urgency.

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David Lai will be speaking at the 2nd Microfluidics Congress: USA on using microfluidics in particle engineering for long-acting injectables.


Listen to this free presentation on labs-on-a-chip, smart nanomaterials and micromotors.

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