What does an Oncology Diagnostic Liaison in the pharma industry do? Meet Naresh Chandra and find out!

Where are they now? Meet MIMS alumnus Naresh Chandra and learn about how his time as a PhD student at MIMS prepared him for a position in pharma today.

Naresh standing outdoors wearing a dark orange sweater and glasses
Naresh Chandra, PhD Photo: Hrishikesh Das

Dr. Naresh Chandra completed his PhD degree in 2019 in virology at The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at Umeå University, working on the glycobiology of human adenovirus infection. He then shifted fields and sectors, applying his well-polished transferable skills as Oncology Diagnostic Liaison at AstraZeneca. I recently caught up with Dr. Chandra to learn about his move to industry and reflect on valuable lessons during the PhD training years.

How did you come to do your PhD at MIMS?

Many people in India have an aspiration to go abroad for PhD studies, and so did I. There are different reasons - a desire for an advanced degree and better resources and infrastructure. For me, better financial support was also a reason because I could help support my family back in India. I considered the United States, Germany or Switzerland, and I applied for many positions, but nothing happened. No responses. Then I found the open PhD position at MIMS, funded by the Marie-Curie ITN Network ADVAnce consortium, and I was very excited about the project described. However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to Sweden, particularly to the north of Sweden due to the climate. I was interviewed by Professor Niklas Arnberg (currently affiliated to MIMS as Senior PI) and his team, and a few days later received an offer. At that time I did not have any other opportunities, so I took it. My friends and I in India were a little concerned about this move. Then, when I arrived in Sweden, I felt in my heart that this was one of the best decisions I have made. Everything happens for the best. 

What did you most enjoy about your PhD period?

I enjoyed many things! First - the people and diversity at MIMS. You meet and learn from people with different backgrounds. And it’s not just cultural diversity. It is also diverse in the sense of education, gender, ethnicity, and background. For people coming from abroad, the local language can be a challenge in the beginning. But at MIMS, and at Umeå University in general, there are people from many different countries. So we could communicate, grow and explore together. With my friends I organized various cultural events, including dances, which people appreciated a lot. 

I also enjoyed the challenging projects, learning from people in my group who had different skills and a lot of knowledge. Umeå is well known for infectious disease research, providing an opportunity for me to meet many experts nationally and internationally.

Are there skills or knowledge you gained, or valuable lessons you learned, that helped shape your career path? 

Absolutely, yes! The skills I developed during my PhD help me to effectively execute my tasks in my current position. Take communication skills, for example. How we understand science and complex disease, how we interpret scientific results, and how we present science were all skills that I learned during the PhD. We also learned to work under pressure, and this taught me dedication and perseverance. I could show, for example in my interview for this position, the high quality of work that I could do in a short period of time. Related to this, my PhD supervisor taught me how to be more focused, structured and detail-oriented. You have to be precise and clear in your verbal and written communication. 

The networking and opportunities to collaborate during the PhD helped me build my skills in teamwork, which is also important. I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of people, thanks to the ADVance project, MIMS and the Nordic EMBL Partnership. I apply these skills frequently because internal and external collaboration is central to my work.

Tell me about your current position.

My current position is Oncology Diagnostic Liaison at AstraZeneca, and I'm covering all of Sweden. The role falls within Medical Affairs and the commercial domain. Simply put, Medical Affairs professionals communicate research and clinical data with clinicians. 

Within a pharmaceutical company, there are typically two domains, one that covers work with approved drugs in the market and one that deals with drugs in clinical development. In the latter, there are clinical trials going on and the drugs are not yet in the market or available for prescription. It is important that companies communicate the progress and outcomes of clinical trials. My role sits there at that two-way junction between the company and the clinicians. I communicate clinical findings and progress, and I take in input from the clinicians for the development of drugs.  

We also present at conferences and participate in advisory boards and other non-promotional activities. What is particularly interesting about my role is the shift from generalized to precision medicine. Instead of one-drug-fits-all, targeted therapies are becoming more common. Medicine is now more precise. At AstraZeneca, around 80% of oncology drugs are targeted therapies. Patients that can benefit from these targeted therapies are identified based on biomarker profiles or other tests. Before launching a drug in the market, we need to know whether appropriate biomarkers tests are available at medical treatment sites, what the challenges in testing are, and how we can contribute to addressing these challenges as a company. My role also provides support to the regulatory, commercial and business excellence team. I really enjoy my role and tasks. It’s rewarding and satisfying to contribute to improving patient health. 

How is your current position preparing you for the future?

I see a lot of opportunities for learning and preparing myself for the future. I'm not willing to change my role at the moment, but I certainly have the ambition to grow and be a leader in the long term. There is very good mentorship at my workplace. I have also been selected for a talent program within the organization where I'm meeting various senior people every month to learn how they set and achieve goals, what challenges they face, and how they overcome those challenges. Personally, I feel that it is okay to not have a concrete plan at the moment, but one must have a long term aim that guides preparation for the future.

If you could offer advice to those interested in a career in industry, what would it be? 

I have gone through some challenges in my career so far, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. It all boils down to being very proactive. Be desperate! 

  • Have a mindset that nothing is impossible. Make a plan and keep trying.
  • Take initiative and do more than what is expected. 
  • Develop skills that are lacking and take relevant courses.
  • Build a network as early as possible and learn from these people. 
  • Ask someone to be your mentor. Don't be shy. 
  • Learn the native language so that you can operate professionally in that language.
  • Remember, getting your desired job is not an accident. It’s a process that takes time.
  • And one bit of practical advice - if you don't have a driver's license, get one! It will improve your career opportunities tremendously. 

Brief career summary

Dr. Naresh Chandra was initially trained in virology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, earning an M.Sc. degree in 2012. In 2012 he was recruited to the ADVance Initial Training Network (ITN) funded by the prestigious Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions and hosted at Umeå University. After academic research with Professor Niklas Arnberg at MIMS and two 3-month secondments, one at Oxford University and one at Johnson & Johnson, he completed the PhD degree in 2019. He then worked at BioReperia, a biotech company that has developed a novel in vivo model for oncology drug research. Since April 2021, he has been Oncology Diagnostic Liaison at AstraZeneca, based in Stockholm, Sweden. 


The “Where Are They Now? Nordic EMBL Partnership Alumni Careers” profiles introduce readers to alumni of the Nordic EMBL Partnership and the careers that they have embarked on.