Looking Back on a Career in Canadian Healthcare

By Wayne Schnarr

In early 2017, I made a personal decision to wind down all my active work with Canadian healthcare companies and focus on retirement, family, hobbies and travel. Many people remind me of my similar attempt at this in 2008 when I ‘got retired’ from my position as a stock analyst during the financial crisis of 2008. This current attempt at retirement will be successful!!

One cannot simply walk away from almost 40 years of working with fascinating people, technologies and companies. I will continue to read the numerous e-newsletters arriving daily and look at quarterly share price performance of the public companies to guide my small investments in the sector. When my industry friends call to chat, we will reminisce over a coffee, beer(s) or lunch. And when somebody I have never met asks me for comments on a slide deck or executive summary, they will probably get 2 or more hours of free consulting.

While I continue to write the quarterly share price performance blogs for Bloom Burton through the end of 2017, I am also going to write a few blogs looking back on my career in Canadian healthcare. When looking back, one should not simply record events but also ask the questions which accompany those events. There are many exceedingly complex questions about the biomedical research, pharma, healthcare and financial sectors, for which I do not believe there are any simple answers. However, if one does not ask the questions and think about all the possible solutions, nothing will be accomplished.

My career really started at Queen’s University in the Department of Chemistry where I completed my Ph.D. in carbohydrate chemistry in 1977. The subject of my thesis did not lead to any novel drugs nor any long-term research programs. One of my co-supervisors, J.K.N. Jones, was a fine English gentleman whose name was on a patent for the synthesis of Vitamin C – the 3 inventors sold their rights in 1937 for £100. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1977 just prior to his retirement. My main supervisor, Walter Szarek, was a contributor to the drug candidates for the Canadian biotech company, Neurochem (now BELLUS Health) and is still an Emeritus faculty member.

I was fortunate to work in a large group with great people from several countries who went on to a variety of careers, including synthetic chemistry and research management in the pharma industry, academic and government positions, and some completely unrelated to their chemistry degrees. There are memories from the lab – smelling the solvents from ongoing experiments each morning (walk into a lab now and you cannot smell anything – which is safer), working with the first HPLC columns (not machines yet), searching for chemical information in books (no internet), and having my thesis typed (no personal computers). Many students and faculty played multiple sports – the athletic center with squash courts and the hockey arena was across the street from our labs. And there were obviously group events outside the lab – some involving cheap Yugoslavian red wine or visits to local pubs for trays of draft or beer in quart bottles – or is that something we choose to forget?

While I was approaching the end of my graduate career, I had some career options:

  • Start the post-doc path to a potential academic appointment;
  • Apply to medical school; or
  • Find a path to an industrial career (my choice).

Much later in my career, I was involved with the Queen’s Chemistry Innovation Council (QCIC), a group of mostly chemistry department grads who volunteered and assisted as needed in areas such as funding, industry connections and student mentoring. I was most interested in how students were preparing for their career decisions, what were their options and what assistance they were getting – which will be the starting point for the next blog in this series.

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