“I knew from a young age that I wanted to study chemistry”
Ivana Šoljić Jerbić is a lead scientist in the development of complex sterile medicines at Teva Croatia. She talks about her work collaborating with people all over the world and advises never be afraid to change your course in life if necessary.
My days at work are very varied. Some days I will be at my desk, writing reports to support our projects, other times I may spend the whole day in the lab or attending meetings. It all depends on what stage of product development we’re at.
Basically I have two roles at Teva. On some projects I’m leading the development, on others I am supporting it by communicating with the relevant drug approval agencies, such as the FDA (the USA's Food and Drug Administration), for example.
The complex sterile drugs we work on are potentially very important in treating chronic diseases, such as schizophrenia and diabetes. They contain biodegradable synthetic polymers, which are used as a release modifier to enhance and modify the release of the drug within a certain time frame, for example a month or two or three months. This may be very beneficial for patients as they don’t have to take the drug every day, they can take it once a month or even once in two or three months in some cases.
I recently read a book called Rose Tea by Karla Kuzle, which is about the author’s struggle with chronic illness and how medication helps her to live a normal life. Reading it, I realized how important the medications we are developing are to patients. The drugs may really help their quality of life.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to study chemistry. I liked chemistry and was good at it so I knew that I would have a career in science. I studied chemical engineering in university and worked as an academic researcher for nine years after getting my degree. Then I joined Teva.
My mother is also a chemist, and the first Nobel Prize winner from Croatia, Lavoslav Ružička, was born in my hometown, Vukovar. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939. So maybe this also had an impact on me.
There's lots of things that happen in life, you cannot plan everything. My first area of interest was petroleum engineering and I thought I would go into the oil industry. But I’ve ended up in pharmaceuticals.
Coming to Teva, I learned to work as part of a team and work with a diverse range of people because this job is not just about knowledge and expertise, it’s also about how you interact with others. Drug product development is highly multidisciplinary and I have to collaborate with lots of people, all offering different expertise and knowledge, so it’s very important to have good relationships.
Working in a team of people with lots of different expertise is very stimulating but sometimes it's challenging to bridge all the cultural differences. I work with people from all over Europe and also in the US and Israel. We have to find a similar language and gather around the same goal. Sometimes even the time difference can be challenging! But in the end, I think this really is a great experience that enriches us as people and broadens our horizons.
My friends know my area of expertise is polymer chemistry, so they were initially confused about my job because they linked polymers to plastics – and wondered if I was actually working in drug packaging and not drug development. Once they understood, they thought it was exciting to develop innovative drug products and collaborate with people all over the world.
I'm a really simple person and I like to spend time with my family and friends in nature and the countryside. And I love riding my bike on country roads, this is something I like to do for fun with my family. We can all be together and enjoy the outdoors.
I'm a big fan of Croatian football teams. I really like to watch football games and I go to the stadium sometimes to cheer them on. When I was studying science in school, the majority of the class were boys so most of my friends in high school were boys. They were always talking about football and going to games so I did too.
My career advice is to always give your best and don’t be afraid to take a different course if necessary. I believe it's very good for your personal growth to sometimes change your field of interest. Maybe this will be hard at the start, but it’s how you will grow.
All information and job titles were correct at time of approval
Mike works on the development of medical devices and combination products, such as auto-injectors and pre-filled syringes, which dispense drugs into the body. It is precise and painstaking work as the wrong dosage could have significant consequences for patients.