Besides conventional responsibilities on the dispensing counter, pharmacists are well suited for research jobs, be it in academia or work done in pharmaceutical companies.

Research pharmacists have always been indispensable in the world of research. This specific role is also progressively gaining importance in Malaysia.

Roles available at local universities

The central role of a research pharmacist is driving research initiatives. However, there is much depth to what constitutes a research project. Additionally, the nature of such projects can span from drug discovery, enhancing formulations for better drug delivery to improving patient compliance and the public health system.

Typically, research pharmacists work in either academia or with pharmaceutical companies.

There are 17 universities in Malaysia which are actively involved in pharmacy research. Many of these universities have a long tradition of conducting excellent pharmaceutical research, particularly in the field of pharmacokinetics, pharmaceutical biotechnology and drug delivery systems.

Research pharmacists are expected to be at the forefront of research in these fields and must be capable of utilising cutting-edge technology and equipment to accomplish sophisticated research goals. Apart from conducting studies, pharmacists who work in the academia are expected to be involved significantly in teaching as well.

On the other hand, the nature of research work may differ for those who work in the pharmaceutical industry. In Malaysia, many of them focus on developing new formulations to further enhance drug delivery and packaging methods to ensure that drugs can be safely transported and stored. The generic drug sector is flourishing in the country as well, as a direct result of the government's effort to transform Malaysia into a generic drug manufacturing hub as part of the NKEA project.

These highly specialised research require advanced knowledge and competencies, as well as good understanding of various international regulations and guidelines on the relevant matter. For example, a bioequivalence research project must comply with local and international guidelines on conducting such research, in additional to fulfilling strict requirement on Good Laboratory Practice, Good Clinical Practice and approval from a local research ethics committee.

Post-graduate qualifications needed for the best career options

The nature of the work of a research pharmacist is about pushing the boundaries of his scientific understanding. Inherently, those who wish to embark on a research career must demonstrate that they have sufficient knowledge and skill that meets the high standards required. Often, this means attaining a postgraduate qualification.

Relevant working experience in the research sector is also slowly becoming a necessity for many pharmaceutical companies as job candidates are increasingly becoming highly qualified. For those who work in clinical trials or research that involves a human subject, a certification in Good Clinical Practice may be necessary. 

Pharmacists working in research can safely expect a comparable salary to their counterparts, if not better. For academicians, each individual school or university has their respective salary schemes.

Negotiation for a better salary package may not be possible for those working in the public sector, but may be quite common in private universities. With time and accumulated research achievement, these pharmacists may be granted professorship, a privileged title reserved for the most accomplished researchers.

Another career pathway for research pharmacists is to become a research project manager, commonly found in private pharmaceutical companies. In some cases, pharmacists can look forward to becoming the head of the research division, who will be tasked with the operation of the research facilities. MIMS

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