Special coverage: General Assembly and Annual Conference - Climbing the ladder: Bala Attili’s outstanding career trajectory

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From humble beginnings in India to associate director at AstraZeneca’s Clinical Pharmacology and Safety Sciences Unit in Cambridge, Bala Attili has come a long way. It’s his meteoric rise in academia and industry that earned him the Career Award at the MCAA 2022 Annual Conference.

As a child, Bala read autobiographies of scientists in his mother tongue. “The one who really inspired me was Marie Curie, the struggles she went through and what she achieved in the end is truly inspiring to me and many others.”

Armed with a Master’s degree in pharmacy from India’s prestigious Andhra University, he set off to pursue a PhD at KU Leuven, one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Europe. In 2018, he completed his doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences.

In addition to being the recipient of two MSCA Fellowships, Bala received another prestigious fellowship from the University of Cambridge. “I was thrilled to work for the University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and patient-facing at Addenbrookes Hospital,” he says. “This experience really cultivated my scientific curiosity and took it to the next level.”

While at the University of Cambridge, Bala had the privilege of working with the world’s preeminent clinician scientists and research scientists. He was also a stone’s throw away from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology where 12 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work carried out there. “It was a dream come true for a passionate scientist,” he recalls.

From the university lab to big pharma

The switch to industry came when AstraZeneca offered Bala a senior scientist position in 2020. He was part of the Clinical Pharmacology and Safety Sciences team that worked tirelessly on the vaccine to protect against COVID-19. A year and a half after joining the pharmaceutical and biotech giant, he was promoted to associate director. He’s leading advanced cancer therapies to push the boundaries of science. “My goal and vision is to turn cancer into a curable disease,” he states. To achieve this, the focus has turned to novel, next-generation oncological therapies.

Bala has been an active member of the MCAA since 2013. During his doctoral training, he served as BeNeLux Chapter Chair and as a member of the Board. After obtaining his PhD, he became Treasurer and was elected to the MCAA Board as an Executive Committee member for two years.

“It was a real honour to receive the MCAA Career award. I have faced several challenges along my way, and every time I learned something more about me. This award encourages me to engage more in mentorships and career development activities, as well as academia-industry transitions for MCAA Alumni,” concludes Bala.

Jerry Stamatelos
MCAA Editorial Team

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