Phumzile Sikakana graduated from the University of Sheffield in January this year and was awarded a distinction in her master’s degree.  Phum joined ApconiX in November last year and here reflects on her first 6 months with the company.

“I was a recent biomedical science graduate when I joined ApconiX. I was really happy to have been offered such an interesting job, that would allow me to use and build on my scientific knowledge to help their clients make important decisions. In my first meeting with the company directors Ruth, Richard and Mike, I was inspired by their passion for their work and felt I could be a good fit in the company because of how friendly and engaging they were. I have been at ApconiX for almost 6 months now and so far, I have learnt a lot about nonclinical safety in drug development and really enjoyed getting to know the whole team.

Whilst being at ApconiX I have had the chance to assist in screening client’s compounds against specific ion channels in our electrophysiology laboratory. In doing this I’ve learnt some of the fundamentals of ion channel safety screening including the importance of investigating cardiovascular liability. I have also seen how hERG screening data is generated using automated electrophysiology. This has helped me understand first-hand the importance of nonclinical safety during drug discovery and development.

Over the past few months I have met with most of the associates ApconiX team and they are some of the best in their individual fields of nonclinical safety with years of experience. They have taken time to meet with me to explain what their specific role is and teach me about their area of expertise. During these meetings we have discussed a range of topics including; general toxicology, reproductive toxicology and nonclinical study monitoring. I have become much more informed about the essential role drug safety and toxicology plays in the discovery and development process for a drug to reach first in man trials, never mind what is needed for it to have any commercial success. I love the collaborative nature that comes with working for ApconiX. It has been a great opportunity to learn on the job, not only about the science of drug safety but also how the company works.

With the support of my colleagues I have started to assist in producing tailor made target safety assessments (TSAs) for clients. These TSAs allow an understanding of the potential safety risks associated with a specific target or pathway. This is an important aspect of the early drug discovery and development pathway, which can aid designing both the nonclinical and clinical studies and interpreting the data during development. We collect relevant information from literature searches and other publicly-available resources, to create a document which presents potential safety risks and also the mitigation plans for the next steps. It offers a solid foundation at the beginning of new projects and provides concise up to date information to refer to throughout the development process.

In a couple of weeks, I will be attending my first scientific meeting, The British Toxicology Society Annual Congress, with ApconiX. I’m excited to be able to go to the event with the team and learn more about developments in toxicology and drug safety. I’m looking forward to meeting the colleagues we work with and networking with other early career scientists in the field.

Being based at Alderley Park is an added bonus of this job. There are a number of initiatives aimed at both professional and personal development. I have been able to attend project managing and marketing classes as well as lunchtime scientific seminars onsite. I also took part in the Annual Alderley Park Site Race and had the chance to go to networking events. These opportunities have supported my personal growth and made my new job more rewarding.

I have felt so much support from Ruth, Richard and Mike, to learn and develop my scientific and personal skills during my time so far in this role. I have learnt an enormous amount about toxicology from the whole ApconiX team, and I feel that I have contributed the growth of the company.

It has been an amazing experience and I have really enjoyed my time with ApconiX so far. I look forward to seeing what I will have achieved and how far I will have come in the next 6 months!”