Meet the Experts: Samuel Frere and Elena Lapkina Gendler
Samuel Frere and Elena Lapkina Gendler work in the non-clinical (early stage) research lab in Netanya, Israel. The role of the laboratory is to provide evidence for the potential of drugs in development and the mechanisms of their action. Samuel and Elena have different specialties that allow their group to test the effect of Teva drugs on gene expression and on cellular function. They have worked at Teva for approximately 3 years.
While they took very different paths to get here, Samuel and Elena were both were drawn to the world of science and the importance of developing new medicines. They acknowledge that it can take courage to change jobs or industries, though both firmly believe that ultimately professional success is tied to being in a job you are passionate about. As Elena says, "We spend a lot of time at work; we should enjoy it."
The two scientists are independent thinkers who make their own decisions. They love the challenges and puzzles that come with their jobs - it's what interests them most.
Samuel and Elena talk about what it's like working in a lab, the diverse paths to Teva, life outside of work and share their best career advice.
On the path to Teva
Elena: I took an unconventional path to come to Teva. I have a BA in Nursing and worked for almost six years in the general children’s unit at the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Israel. But I was looking for a new challenge; I didn’t want to stay at the hospital all my life. So I studied for my M.Sc-Ph.D. and went directly to Teva afterward.
It’s a very different type of work. In the hospital, I worked with people who are sick. Israel is a country with a very diverse population, and you meet people in a stressful, high pressure setting. You needed to know how to work and communicate with different people every day, both colleagues and patients. It was a good experience, and I think it helps me with my job now – I have medical knowledge and I know how to work and collaborate with different people.
When I did my Ph.D., I knew I wanted to go into the medicine development industry. It wasn't even a question for me. I’d spent enough time in academia - I was looking for a new challenge.
Samuel: I took a pretty long path to get here. Many people join Teva just after their Ph.D. or post-doctorate degree, but I did two post-docs – which is a lot. I wasn’t interested in industry work at the beginning, I wanted to be in academia. But after the second post-doc, it was time to get a 'real job'.
The work that I do is electrophysiology and it is very specific and unique. I record the electricity produced by cells. It’s a very specialized niche, and there aren’t many jobs in the industry for it. So when I saw this position at Teva, I applied.
There were only three applicants and one of them was my wife! It was okay going up against her since we hoped at least one of us would get the job. I wasn't sure Teva would hire me because I had completed my Ph.D. years ago so I was happy to be chosen.
On their work in the lab
Samuel: I’m a scientist testing the efficacy of Teva-developed drugs. I work in pre-clinical trials, checking to see if the drug affects the function of the cells.
Currently, I'm working on a program about pain. I’m looking at a drug Teva is developing, seeing its effect on pain sensors when they’re stimulated. I collect the sensory neurons from cells, then prepare the experiments. To begin with, I analyze the neuron’s activity using fluorescent microscopy. Next, I introduce Teva's component and see how well it can prevent modulation that aggravates the pain sensors. After that, I start analyzing the results of the experiments.
Overall, I spend 60-70% of my time in the lab. The rest of the time, I analyze the results of the experiments on my computer.
Elena: My role in Teva is to design, execute and analyze scientific experiments. I use various technical skills and a wide range of lab equipment to investigate Teva-developed drug functions and activities. My role also involves managing activities and some collaborations with people working inside the lab and elsewhere.
The work is very dynamic. I mainly work in the lab and conduct experiments but spend a lot of time analyzing results and reading scientific literature. Every day is different, and I enjoy all the changes that come with my job. There's variety - the lab, the computer, and meetings with people from all over the world.
On working at Teva
Elena: Teva is a very family-friendly company that supports families and the education of employees' children. I'm not sure you see that in other places. Since the company has sites in so many countries, you can work with people from all over the world. I enjoy working with great people. And working with those global sites means you can see the whole picture of the drug development process.
Samuel: When I joined Teva, I started to do other specialties and learned new things. I'm a neuroscientist, so I didn't think that, besides the brain, the rest of the body was that exciting. Now I'm reading about the immune system and lungs and other parts of the anatomy. The human body is both complicated and fascinating.
When I switched from academia to industry, I thought there would be a hierarchy at Teva. Surprisingly, I didn't have a culture shock. There was a lot of trust between people, and that was a good development.
On life outside the lab
Samuel: I like to read detective books and travel with my family – hiking in Israel and showing them France, where I grew up.
Elena: I dance Zumba. I really like it, and it’s my main hobby. I also travel with family abroad. Now that it's difficult to go overseas, we take trips around Israel when we can. But for me, my passion is Zumba twice a week.
Samuel: I think science is what motivates me. I like the science that’s progressing around me. And I'm still fascinated by experiments and conducting them in the lab.
Elena: At Teva, I am constantly juggling new fields, equipment, methods, and areas. There are challenging new projects, and things are very dynamic. The challenge is good, and I’m constantly learning new things.
On career advice they'd offer others
Samuel: I would say, figure out what you want to do. Choose which career path you want to take, whether that’s in academia or industry. But don’t stay if it’s not a great fit. People always think, “Okay, I'll discover something impressive, and then my career will start,” but that doesn't always happen. You should always have a Plan B.
Elena: One key thing I learned is that if you feel you're not in the right place - even if you earned your BA and are working in something – you don't have to stay. You need to change. My job didn’t feel like the right fit, so I completely changed my field. And I think I did the right thing.
It's not simple, but I think it's better to do that rather than staying somewhere not right for you. We spend a lot of time at work, we should at least enjoy it. Go into something you like to do.
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