Principal Clinical Research Scientist, Johnson & Johnson

Nov 24, 2020
Principal Clinical Research Scientist, Johnson & Johnson

An alum of the 2014 SMDP MedTech and 2015 SMDP BioTech scholar cohort, Derrick Akpalu, PhD, is the Principal Clinical Research Scientist at Johnson & Johnson. Derrick leads a team of clinical research scientists to design appropriate clinical trials and to ensure appropriate interpretation and dissemination of all evidence generated. He also develops collaborative relationships with all relevant CR&D partners and cross-functional partners (e.g. Global Strategic Marketing, Medical Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, R&D, etc.) to ensure cross- functional alignment on projects. 

As a Principal Clinical Research Scientist,  Derrick secures input and strong alignment from key regional CR&D leads and other strategically important countries/regions in the development of the clinical evidence generation and dissemination strategies for the biosurgery platform. Our biosurgery platform is dedicated to supporting patients and surgeons by developing products (biologics and devices) to address bleeding challenges, air leaks and post-operative tissue adhesions.

What is the highest degree you have earned and what can you tell us about your academic path?

My highest degree is a dual degree: Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences & Master’s in Clinical Research. I was born in England and spent my formative years in Ghana. I returned to the UK and completed my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry with Microbiology at Queen Mary, University of London. I then joined Baxter Healthcare Ltd, as an aseptic compounding associate before enrolling at University College London to complete a master’s degree in Biomedicine. After my master’s degree I joined Richmond Pharmacology where I had my first taste of the life of a clinical research professional and gained hands-on experience in early phase clinical research. I then relocated to the US initially with the intention of enrolling in another master’s degree at the Morehouse School of Medicine, this time in Clinical Research. However, before the end of my master’s program, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to switch onto a dual degree track – PhD Biomedical Science/MS Clinical Research.       

Where do you work now and what is your company about?

I work at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in the Ethicon group which focuses on medical devices. I initially joined J&J in the Janssen group and have therefore worked in the pharma and medical devices divisions within the same parent company.

J&J is a global leader in the healthcare industry with the most broad-based product offering in the pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer sectors.

How did you first learn about the company?

J&J is a brand I recognized prior to joining the company. However, it was during an informational session organized by J&J that I got my first professional look at the company and began paying attention to it.

What do you like most about the company?

J&J is a company guided by its credo. Knowing that the credo informs and guides our decision-making is for me what I like the most because it ensures that our focus is primarily on the patients we seek to serve and what is in their best clinical interests.

What skills make you successful in your role and why did you choose this role?

To be successful in my role one needs functional & technical competencies as well as leadership competencies.  The key functional and technical competencies include a thorough understanding of clinical research science and processes along with a good understanding of surgical research setting, related healthcare market environment insights, clinical trends, and global clinical trial regulations. These skills provide the foundations to effectively design and manage clinical trials that are scientifically sound and innovative enough to address ongoing and future healthcare needs.

Some of the leadership requirements of my role are the ability to manage scientists to provide strategic and clinical research inputs across product life cycle, being able to collaborate across different functional areas within CR&D and establishing collaborative relationships with key internal and external partners and stakeholders to meet business objectives in a timely manner.  

How do you define success?

Success for me is knowing that I applied myself to the best of my ability to ensure that every moment is leveraged to its fullest to achieve the very best that that opportunity or moment offers. Therefore, this can take different situational forms such as: putting a smile on someone’s face; a tight embrace; a non-judgmental listening ear; a long working day that contributes to solving an unmet clinical need, etc. Success for me is thus a present continuous state, that ultimately defines a successful life as one that seizes every wakeful moment to make a difference in big and or small ways.    

What's the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

Every day my job offers me the opportunity to work alongside a diverse group of highly talented and committed individuals with the sole focus of ethically advancing healthcare globally to make meaningful differences in the lives of patients across the world. Additionally, the broad base of our product offering as well as the global reach of the biosurgery platform ensures that every day demands different solutions to a different innovation hurdle. Ultimately, designing, and delivering a highly successful clinical trial that addresses an unmet medical need is the most fulfilling aspect of my job. 

What advice do you have for students and job seekers?

Beyond differentiating oneself academically and seeking opportunities to gain industry experience early on, cultivating a true passion for finding enduring solutions to current and future medical problems is a trait that will serve an aspiring clinical researcher well. Additionally, adopting a professional ethical compass that ensures that the patient is always at the center of one’s decision-making process without sacrificing scientific rigor or business imperatives is a balancing act that would contribute to a fulfilling clinical research career.

What book did you read last?

The last book I read is “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. It is a book on psychology for those interested in improving their decision-making no matter what field they might be in.