Alan Burns is Senior Scientist III and Team Leader in the chemistry group at BioAscent. In our latest blog, Alan talks about how his early interest in chemistry’s application in the real world sparked his desire to pursue a career in science, leading to his current role at BioAscent, a fast-growing contract research organisation that has offered both career opportunities and an exciting place to work.
Alan’s early interest in science was ignited at school by three young and enthusiastic science teachers, who were engaging and passionate about science. His fascination with the periodic table morphed into developing his understanding as to how chemistry is used in the real world, from the oil and gas industry to how to make nylon or the artificial banana flavouring used in sweets.
After school, Alan studied chemistry at the University of Strathclyde, where he began to focus on organic chemistry, specialising in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, driven by his fascination as to how organic materials could be used to make medicines and have a real-world impact.
After graduating in 2006, Alan moved to the University of York to complete his PhD in natural product synthesis. The PhD was sponsored by GSK which gave him the opportunity to carry out a 3-month placement at their labs in Tonbridge.
He then moved back to Scotland to do his Post Doc at the University of Edinburgh, however about part way through, his supervisor moved to the University of Nottingham, so Alan followed to complete his Post Doc.
On completing his studies, Alan set up his life in the East Midlands and secured a position as Senior Scientist at Sygnature Discovery in January 2015. His role was primarily lab-based where he worked on reactions, focusing on the chemistry for a number of projects in the therapeutic area of oncology.
After four and a half years at Sygnature, Alan decided to move back to Scotland.
“The driving force behind moving was that I had recently married and started a family, and I realised we were a significant distance away from our family and friends. It was clear to me that the time was right to move back to Scotland, so we started to look for jobs north of the border. I discovered BioAscent and remembered the European Screening Centre and was interested to see that the company was transitioning into a CRO, so I approached Angus Morrison, BioAscent’s Director of Chemistry.” Alan reflects.
“Angus and Phil (Jones, now Chief Scientific Advisor) really sold me their vision and future plans for the company. I had two other job offers on the table at the time, but they convinced me that BioAscent was the place to be. It was a risk to join such a small company at that time, but one I’m glad I took.”
In July 2019, Alan joined BioAscent as Senior Scientist and was one of the first chemists to join the company.
“I joined a close-knit and small team and we had just a small number of projects on the go. Fast forward three years, and we now have over 30 chemists working on multiple projects. It is exciting to play a part in the growth. We have structure in the department, which allows for progression in the team. Importantly, one of the USPs for BioAscent, and CROs in general, is the wide variety of work and projects, working across different disease areas with multiple clients.”
Alan’s role at BioAscent has evolved from bench and lab chemistry, to managing and supporting a team, looking after their development and progression, and he also spends time interacting with clients to discuss their projects.
Scottish born and bred, Alan enjoys the quality of life living and working in Scotland.
“BioAscent is perfectly located in between two fantastic cities – Edinburgh which is steeped in culture and architecture, and then the vibrant and exciting city of Glasgow. Only an hour from here, you are at Loch Lomond and another hour on from that, the Highlands. If you love the outdoors and culture, this is the place to be. The cost of living is far more attractive than many towns and cities south of the border. There are a lot of lovely towns and villages with good schools to choose from. Life also feels less hectic, and there is space to breathe.”
Reflecting on BioAscent, Alan adds: “As an employer, there is a real, conscious effort to make BioAscent a people business and look after the team, their progression development and training pathways. It isn’t always an easy thing to do as we are still growing, but it is incredibly important. We want to attract good scientists that are aligned to our culture and will fit in.”
“Joining a company while it is growing gives people the chance to get noticed and progress their career maybe faster than they would in a larger organisation, and BioAscent offers a lot of opportunities to develop and grow.”