Meet the Expert: Paula Turner
“I take several of the medicines that we tested here”
Paula Turner runs Teva’s dedicated clinical trials facility in Florida, where healthy volunteers help to test the safety and efficacy of drugs before they receive regulatory approval. Paula started working her way up from a junior role in a male-dominated field 25 years ago, and today, manages a team in which more than half the leaders are women.
Vital information is generated in clinical trials. We recruit healthy volunteers to our clinical trial facility in Florida to test a variety of generic and specialty drugs. Volunteer trials are important for medical research because we gather information that helps us develop products.
Teva is unusual and possibly unique in having its own clinic. In the past, a couple of other pharmaceutical firms had their own facilities but now most outsource the work to clinical research organisations. Having our own clinic means we can be much more flexible and responsive than if we had to book bed space elsewhere. We’ve got 24 shared rooms here with eight to 12 beds in each, as well as recreation rooms.
I’ve worked my way up from a junior role. I started doing data entry when I came in to clinical research 25 years ago. Most of the management team were men. I kept my head down, stuck with it and learned as much as I possibly could in a variety of different roles. Today, I run the entire clinic and lead a team of more than 100 people.
I get to meet so many different people. We currently have a database of more than 35,000 volunteers who can take part in our trials.The profile of our recruits varies depending on the trial but, generally, they are aged between 18 and 45. Sometimes they will spend five days with us, other trials might require them to stay up to 30 days. They have 24/7 access to medical care from nurses, paramedics and physicians on site. The volunteers tell us that the access to doctors is something they really value.
I’ve got a very personal reason to feel grateful and proud of the work we do. One of our biggest research areas over the years has been Type 2 Diabetes. I’m a diabetic and actually take several of the medicines that we tested here. That’s very special to me. I see the science behind it and I have absolute confidence they’ve been properly tested.
My golden rule is: if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen. It might sound like perfectionism, butbeing committed to running a gold standard facility is really important to me. Patients count on us, whether that’s those taking part in the trials or those that take the medicines once they’re on the pharmacy shelf. It’s a lot of responsibility and we have the highest professional and ethical standards to make sure patients are well looked after.
When volunteers come here they’re entering a carefully controlled environment. We check luggage to make sure they don’t bring anything which could impact trials, we make sure they stick to a strict regime of medication and monitoring and we provide all their meals.
I see a lot of talented women in our industry. There are rightly concerns about women lagging behind men in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related careers and more needs to be done to encourage women in to those career paths. This makes me even prouder of the fact that eight of the 14 managers in my leadership team are women!
It’s inspiring to see strong female role models. Although I don’t have a mentor, seeing Hafrun Fridriksdottir do her job as Executive Vice President of Global Research and Development for Teva has been wonderful for me.
Fly-fishing is my favourite way to unwind. My job takes me all over the world, across the United States and to places as diverse as India, Israel and Iceland, to name just a few. The first question I ask when I arrive somewhere new is if there is a stream nearby so I can go fly-fishing. I mostly love it for the tranquillity, but also, like my job, it’s fascinating because you never stop learning.
The sky really is the limit. That’s my message to anyone, male or female, considering a career in clinical trials. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it! I’ve been in my current role since 2012. There are lots of excellent training opportunities available in the industry, such as the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) in the U.S.