This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 956146.

Looking back at the Introduction Days

AGePOP ESRs at UNGAP meeting

Over the last few weeks, the first training and network activities have been in full flow for the AGePOP Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs). On the 28-29 September 2021, they had the first opportunity to meet in person as they were invited to join the meeting on Current challenges and future perspectives in oral drug absorption research organised by the project UNGAP. They all met in Leuven (Belgium), where together with the UNGAP researchers they found inspiration, gained new knowledge, and exchanged ideas on oral drug absorption.

Shortly after, on 4-6 October 2021 it was already time for AGePOP’s first network-wide event, the AGePOP Introduction Days. Held online, but still allowing for an interactive exchange, the three days included presentations and training modules aimed at introducing the ESRs to their chosen field of research within the project and providing them with a comprehensive overview of what awaits in the next three years of their ESR project.

The project coordinator, Dr. Maria Vertzoni kicked off the meeting with an introduction round, followed by an overview on the key aspects and management structure of the project. The Work Package leaders and ESRs presented the diverse tasks and objectives of the Work Packages and individual research projects – important knowledge for the ESRs to be able to identify potential networking and collaboration opportunities. The first Supervisory Board and Scientific Advisory Board meetings rounded off Day 1, with an outlook to the next meetings and activities that will keep the consortium and ESRs busy over the coming months.

On the following day, the AGePOP ESRs dove into the first training modules on research and transferable skills, joined also by the ESRs from InPharma and COLOTAN, two EU-funded projects also focusing on drug development. Diverse aspects of drug absorption for older people and geriatric patients were discussed, with the first talk by Prof. Patrick Augustijns (KU Leuven) about Drug disposition in the GI luminal environment. Prof. Werner Weitschies (UG) and Prof. Christos Reppas (NKUA) followed with insightful presentations on GI motility and oral drug absorption and The altered intraluminal pH in older adults, respectively. The morning ended with Dr. Christoph Matthys (KU Leuven) sharing his knowledge on Older bariatric patients. The afternoon sessions focused on clinical aspects for the advanced age population. Ageing, frailty, and polypharmacy by Prof. Jos Tournoy (KU Leuven) gave a first overview of the topic, followed by Dr. Jan Schlender (Bayer AG) who introduced the ESRs to PBPK modelling of the elderly population. Throughout the interactive discussions, it became clear that despite the existing research, an important knowledge gap on oral drug development specifically for older people and geriatric patients persists. This was further confirmed by Prof. Maik Gollasch (University Medicine Greifswald) when presenting the Concepts in the medical care of geriatric patients. The day concluded with guest speaker Dr. Viera Lukacova, Chief Scientist at Simulations Plus, providing all ESRs with fascinating insights into PBPK modelling and oral drug absorption. “The various training modules on biopharmaceutical, physiological and clinical aspects in advanced age, presented by absolute specialists in their fields, were a highlight of the introduction days.” says Jonas Kusch, one of the AGePOP ESRs. “It was the perfect opportunity to broaden the general knowledge in this specific area and I am sure that all ESRs benefited from it.”

Training Module with former ESRs and Phd students

To close the Introduction Days, the third day was specifically tailored to the ESRs’ career development, an important part of their AGePOP training. Organised by Dr. Susanne Page and Dr. Cordula Stillhart from ROCHE, Principal Investigators and HR department representatives of the industrial Beneficiaries introduced the ESRs to the pharma industry environment. Ibrahim Ince (Bayer AG), Dr. Simone Hansmann (Merck), and Dr. Cordula Stillhart (ROCHE) provided an overview of the different companies’ missions, realities and areas of focus, while concrete examples on how to develop a career in this sector were presented by guest speakers Peer Schotmann (Merck) and Jeanee Goepfert (ROCHE). A special highlight awaited at the end of Day 3: four former PhD students and ESRs from the ITN PEARRL shared their personal experiences of advancing their career from doctoral students to where they are today as Strategic Marketing Manager at Merck (Daniel Price), Drug Delivery Scientist at Roche (Anna Pratsinis), Formulation Scientist | Drug Product Lead at Roche (Felix Ditzinger), and Scientist in Systems Pharmacology at Bayer (Annika Schneider) in the pharma industry. ESR11, Cleo Demesteer, remembers: „Listening to various career opportunities and speaking with former ESRs demonstrated the numerous possibilities for our professional development. The different career paths inspired us, and it was exciting to think about where we would be in 5 years.”

The ESRs thank the speakers, organisers, and other attendees for their valuable input. With the newly gained knowledge and sparked inspiration, they are looking forward to continuing working on their research projects.

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