Learning About the Business of Healthcare and Innovation: My Internship Experience at AstraZeneca Canada

Learning About the Business of Healthcare and Innovation: My Internship Experience at AstraZeneca Canada

Meena AlnajarMeena Alnajar is an IPilogue Senior Editor, an IP Innovation Clinic Senior Fellow, and a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. This article was written as a requirement for Prof. Pina D'Agostino's IP Intensive Program.

This term, I had the amazing opportunity to work at AstraZeneca Canada through Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program placement. I worked within the legal team, under the supervision of Denise Lacombe, Head of Legal and collaborated with Lynne Sweeney, Legal Counsel and Cristina Aguirre, Privacy Officer as well. I know the skills and support I gained will be everlasting in my legal career.

As we slowly returned to in-person work at the company, I had the opportunity to attend some incredible in-person events. The largest event was the All-Employee Event held at the Mississauga Convention Centre. The event started with the CEO’s opening address reflecting on AstraZeneca’s growth over the last few years. AstraZeneca has expanding clinical trial and research teams which is a hopeful development for research in rare diseases. I was seated with a digital marketing employee, employees in the clinical research and development team, and an employee in the respiratory team. We discussed how we can continue to strengthen our teamwork skills and how everyone’s projects were going. I appreciated the company’s efforts to encourage employees to acknowledge not only the strengths, but areas for growth.

The legal team at AstraZeneca is highly adaptable, working with Denise and AstraZeneca’s different teams, I observed her skillfully respond to urgent issues and achieve compromise amongst team members. Some work highlights for me personally were: drafting a procurement contract, investigating the Patented Medicines Prices Review Board (“PMPRB”) Draft Guidelines, and drafting a response to an Access to Information request.

AstraZeneca is a global company, some contracts can require engaging in services in other countries. The contract must be adjusted to meet a jurisdiction’s requirements through a side letter. I worked with Lynne to draft a side letter and she taught me the necessary terms and considerations to comply with Canadian laws, in particular taxation law, privacy requirements in consultation with the Privacy Officer, Cristina, and currency. Drafting this letter helped me practice and execute my contract drafting skills which is essential in corporate law.

It is a tumultuous time for patented medicine pricing in Canada. On October 6, 2022, the PMPRB released Draft Guidelines and is open to consultation until December 5, 2022. PMPRB’s proposed changes have been the subject of judicial proceedings. The new Guidelines could affect how improvement medicines are priced and change the ‘excessive price’ definition. I researched the case law to find areas that may be concerning for the industry and suggested how AstraZeneca could approach the consultation. I remain intrigued to see how the Guidelines, set for implementation in January 2024, may be changed upon receiving consultations. 

As someone with an avid interest in IP, I wanted to be involved in patent-related work. AstraZeneca focuses on clinical research but also marketing and sales of its IP. An ongoing challenge in the pharmaceutical industry is a patented product’s loss of exclusivity. Once the patent expires, the product’s position in the marketplace is compromised as generics can enter without risking infringement litigation. I was fortunate to sit in and learn about creative ways the marketing team was proposing to continue to compete in the market after losing exclusivity.

I also drafted an Access to Information request response letter. An anonymous requester sought information about a contract AstraZeneca recently entered. To balance Canada’s principles regarding freedom of information and the right to maintain confidential business information, a company can respond to the relevant Access to Information office within the government with proposed redactions to the information requested before releasing it to the requesting party. While people have a right to information, companies also have the right to protect confidential, commercially sensitive information that would compromise its competitive position or reveal its business practices. I exercised analytical and legal research skills to support the proposed redactions grounded in the statute, Access to Information Act, and competition law principles. This exercise prepared me for requests that all lawyers typically receive and must respond to for their client.

This placement at AstraZeneca was an invaluable experience as to an in-house counsel’s work experience and a global company’s operations. My insights were encouraged and developed through Denise’s guidance, Cristina’s privacy expertise, and Lynne’s feedback sessions. I contributed towards projects that will help launch lifesaving medicines. Learning about the breadth of stakeholders involved in pharmaceutical development was an unforgettable experience that has deepened my appreciation for this innovative industry. I am grateful to Professor Pina D’Agostino, Ashley Moniz, Denise Lacombe, Lynne Sweeney, and Cristina Aguirre for fostering this opportunity.