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Paul O’Dowd SSPC Industrial PhD Placement award winner
March 2, 2022

Paul O’Dowd is a PhD researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). Paul took up a placement with Clarochem as part of SSPC’s industry placement programme and recently won the SSPC Industrial PhD Placement Award for exceptional and impactful PhD placement experiences.

“One of the most valuable experiences of my time with Clarochem was the opportunity to work with scientists with decades of experience in both academia and industry. From this, I improved my laboratory techniques and learned new methods to access organic functionality that I hadn’t seen before.”

During my placement, I worked within the Process Development (PD) Department of Clarochem Ireland. Founded in 2009, Clarochem operates as a chemical manufacturer with a wide range of activities including the manufacture of chemical, pharmaceutical and veterinary products. Based in Damastown, the company works alongside two sister sites, AMSA SpA and Cosma SpA, both situated in Italy. Together, the three companies make up the CFM Group, which has operated since 1953 with the main goal of developing active pharmaceutical ingredients for generics and the custom synthesis of market leading products.

Within Clarochem, the PD Department plays an important role in all operations throughout the plant, and indeed across the group, from the development and optimisation of synthetic strategies, to troubleshooting issues encountered during API synthesis and chemical analysis. During my time in the department, I worked on two main projects which exposed me not only to different aspects of industrial organic synthesis, but also to the importance of patent law within industry and the regulations involved in marketing products around the world.

On arriving at the company, the first of these projects revolved around the structural elucidation of impurities encountered in the manufacture of a final product produced in Clarochem. Throughout this project, I worked with large-scale laboratory reactions (50g – 150g) with the goal of isolating the impurities for characterisation primarily by high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Ultimately, this work led to the development of procedures for the isolation of single crystals of the impurities, which can be analysed by single crystal X-ray diffraction spectroscopy in the future, to prove the structures of the impurities definitively.

The goal of the second project I worked on during my time with the company, involved the development of a new route of synthesis for a material previously bought from external suppliers. The importance of this project centred on the fact that synthesis of the material within the Group could be more cost-effective going forward and gives the Group control over the impurity profile of the material.  This work allowed exposure to new classes of reactions that I hadn’t previously encountered as well as both stereoselective syntheses and methods for chiral resolution.

Outside of the two main projects discussed above, the placement continually offered opportunities to gain experience with instrumentation and gain knowledge about innovative research being carried out in industry. These experiences ranged from interesting projects carried out by my supervisor on topics such as product polymorphism and novel drying methods, to being exposed to large-scale reactions in pilot plant reactors. These experiences combined, have made for both a rewarding and impactful placement with Clarochem that has allowed me to engage with experienced scientists to deliver significant outputs.

Having previously carried out an industrial placement during my undergraduate degree, I expected limited responsibilities during my time at Clarochem. Within the first weeks of the placement however, I learned this was not the case as I carried out reactions by myself and then discussed the results and next steps with my supervisor. This approach allowed me to give direct input into the direction of the projects and play an important role in their progression. This work ultimately played a part in a report submitted to the FDA by my supervisor and allowed the exploration of different pathways for the syntheses of desired products.

While there were some differences between the environments of academia and industry that I was already familiar with, such as the importance of documentation and the use of SOPs, my time with Clarochem has made me more aware of the environment within industry. In particular, the interdependence of different departments on one another and the synchronised work of Clarochem with other plants within the Group was not something I had fully understood beforehand.

Alongside the environment factors above, I have learned the importance of close monitoring of reactions for differences, such as changes in temperature or the evolution of gases, to guide the development of safe processes. This became particularly important when working with scales in excess of 100 g, as reactions with these quantities were not something I had experience with and involved a new skill set compared to smaller scales from my PhD.

Phosphorous-based chemistry carried out during the placement was particularly valuable as it was a class of chemistry that I had not worked with previously. This work has recently become directly applicable to my PhD project as we’re beginning to explore the use of phosphorous-based ligands for the development of platinum anticancer derivatives. This work alongside being introduced to advanced NMR experimentation such as HMBC and 31P experiments will be invaluable tools over the remainder of my PhD.

“Paul has participated in several projects with excellent results. Paul has grown in his technical training, being now more solid not only in synthetic methods, but also in the different analytical methods commonly used in any research laboratory of a pharmaceutical company.” Dr Javier Lopez Ogalla, Process Chemist, Clarochem Ireland Ltd.

These are the reasons why my time with Clarochem was impactful, along with training on industry relevant instrumentation and procedures, has made my placement a standout experience from my PhD. My time spent with Clarochem has been an invaluable experience that will play a key role in how I approach the remainder of my PhD, and act as a basis for transitioning to an industry position in the future.

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