Maša is an Associate Director for R&D Physical Characterization at Teva API, responsible for a team researching solid-state active substances – the process that turns effective treatments into viable products for people. Here, she reveals the secrets of her success and a truly scientific appreciation of chocolate.
Like most scientists, I am driven by the new and the unknown. In basic research almost every new understanding is a scientific result, but it’s a different challenge to turn those research results into commercially competitive products.
Not everyone is up to the job of transforming an idea or a theory into a product. It’s a challenging, risky process, and a lot of people find it discouraging. But it’s only by accepting the challenge that we can hope to make a difference.
Polymorph forms are exciting! A polymorph is one material capable of solidifying into multiple crystalline forms, like carbon does in graphite and diamond. My team developed a new one for a drug in just over two weeks - our first polymorph screening of a co-crystal, combining two or more substances. Why’s that important? Well, these products typically remain effective at lower doses, and produce fewer side-effects, so this was amazing. The whole project was a risk, but we took the risk and proved not just that the sky’s the limit, but also that we can move the sky!
My favorite compound is chocolate, and I like it so much that I did an analysis of it using differential scanning calorimetry, which is often used to detect polymorphic forms because they tend to have different melting temperatures. The taste of chocolate depends on its microscale structure - expressed as polymorphs from I to VI. I find the most delicious is polymorph V, which thermodynamically, is not the most stable, but still stable. Polymorph VI, due to its higher melting point of 36.2°C, melts very slowly on the tongue and produces a coarse and sandy sensation. I try not to overdo it with polymorph V, but I do like to treat myself from time to time.
Scientific research sounds really glamorous, but you need to back it up with knowledge and experience in order to turn it into something that is useful to customers. This part of my role can involve hundreds of people in research and production, and it’s up to me to try to give the process momentum whenever I can.
Every day more women are being successful in different areas. We live in a society where men are more easily accepted as business partners and get more readily acknowledged than women, but I have never encountered any negative sentiment at Teva.
To accomplish challenging goals you need to involve others, and respect them and their work. When you are open-minded and willing to cooperate, boundaries disappear. Scientific competence and expertise are a given in my job, but you can’t succeed without social intelligence; the ability to get along with people from all backgrounds is crucial in such a complex, multinational environment.
Persistence and love for your job is a winning combination – this is a lesson I learned at the beginning of my career, when I was lucky enough to work with wonderful people and first-class mentors, who were and still are an incredible inspiration.
If I were 16 again, I’d tell myself never to give up on ideas you think are good, that it is OK to make mistakes and fail from time to time, because what really counts is what we learn from it and how me manage to get back on our feet and move forward.
As a woman, I find family life gives me extra motivation to succeed. My husband and I are proud parents of two boys, Marko and Jakov, and a baby girl, Bela. When I’m at home with the kids, we love to do the gardening and some cooking. Mixing the roles of wife and mother with my professional life is an unbelievable source of new energy and inspiration.
My motto is be brave, believe in yourself and don’t back down when facing obstacles, because overcoming them is a crucial element of personal growth and development.