“Developing biologicals against diseases: that’s my dream”

“It was always my dream to develop immunotherapies against diseases. The immune system has been, and continues to be, a mystery: when things go well, it works beautifully, and it’s equally fascinating to see what happens when things go wrong. Intervening in that is what drives me.

I’ve been working at MSD Animal Health in Boxmeer since January 2016 as project leader in Global Swine R&D. I’m involved in the development of vaccines for pigs. From the development of concepts right until the moment that the vaccines are marketed and beyond. A really broad field of operation, which already begins with outlining the problem and then progresses to marketing an effective and commercially sound product.

I sometimes compare it with having your own child. You’re involved with all of life’s different phases from birth onwards. If all goes well with your child, that’s pure pleasure, but sometimes you also need to solve problems and ‘teething troubles’.

What I find so fascinating with this work is the diversity. At all stages of development, colleagues with different backgrounds and education are involved. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about concept development, devising the production process or applying for a patent: each discipline embraces its own particular skills. As project leader, I’m in charge of leading the teams and finding the right expertise for each phase.

Originally, my background is in veterinary immunology and virology. I also did my doctoral research in veterinary immunology. After that I was working more on the human side of things, on the one hand because there, too, you can do a lot with your knowledge of the animal world, but also because the possibilities are greater, at least in the academic community.

It’s different in the commercial world, such as at MSD. MSD Animal Health is one of the world’s leading vaccine producers. A multinational with people of many different nationalities and where your background is less important than your abilities. There really is room for innovation, creativity and teamwork. The difference with working in the academic world is that you’re totally focused on a very small area and are doing really detailed work. In a company, of course, there needs to be a commercially attractive basis. Then, if you have a good idea, there are no limits!

I’ve not been working here that long, but I do notice that the company really invests in people to improve itself. And I see also that the drive to help society takes priority here. We make medicines for people and animals, not for profit. And then the earnings follow of their own accord, as George Merck once said.

The openness of colleagues and willingness to help is what has been a pleasant surprise for me at MDS. In the early days, I had to learn an awful lot about the company, because it’s so large and diverse and in fact quite complicated… But everybody is tremendously helpful.”

Basav Nagaraj is Associate Principal Scientist, Global Swine R&D Biologicals at MSD Animal Health in Boxmeer