5 Questions with Raphaella Thorson, R&D Learning Technology Leader, AstraZeneca

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Raphaella Thorson, R&D Learning Technology Leader, AstraZeneca.

Raphaella Thorson is an R&D Learning Technology Leader at AstraZeneca. She has been in her new role since November 2020 focusing on how to leverage AZ learning technologies to maintain training inspection readiness across R&D. Raphaella is a mother of 3 and In her spare time she likes to spend time with her family and friends, as well as travel to anywhere with a beautiful beach. She is a huge music fan and enjoys listening to anything from Classical music to Metal.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

I am a University of Maryland, College Park graduate with a degree in Psychology. I am originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but have spent most of my life here in the tri-state area. My journey into the world of Pharma was to be a brief one, but 10ish years later, I am still here. I started my career in Pharma as a temp at the then MedImmune Fredrick Manufacturing site. I was a production planner tasked to ensure all needed chemicals were always on hand to fulfill our manufacturing obligations. Through that role I became interested in the logistics of how the drugs we manufactured got to patients. I was put on a project and was exposed to the drug distribution process. An opportunity came up to join the FluMist and Synagis distribution team as a Senior Distribution Analyst, and there-in officially began my career.

I moved into contracting from that team and assisted with building a process within AstraZeneca for external expert and HCP contracting. I know you probably think that I have jumped around to very different areas, but there were always two things that guided me in my career moves; The need to be challenged/constantly learning something new and figuring out how to leverage technology to build effective and simple business processes. Fast forward to today, I am currently leading a learning technology management team in R&D and looking forward to all the great work we have ahead of us.

2. Explain what R&D Learning Technology is and why it is essential in this industry.

In our industry maintaining inspection readiness is essential on all fronts, training included. We have to ensure we are appropriately documenting employee training, specifically GxP training. My team leverages the enterprise learning management system to oversee the creation, update, and assignment of training for the functions we support within R&D. We need to be prepared to prove our employees are properly trained to perform the tasks they were hired to complete. This is a crucial service my team provides.

We partner with function across R&D on the deployment of key trainings and how to leverage the learning technologies made available through the enterprise. We provide training completion metrics and other key training data so leaders have a pulse on the health of training across their functions. 

3. You have been part of MedImmune and now AstraZeneca for over a decade. Please share your thoughts on how the organization has evolved in the BioHealth Capital Region during your time there.

When I joined MedImmune in 2007 it was right when AstraZeneca purchased the company. Since then, the company has continued to evolve and make decisions that directly align with our business strategy. Driven by innovative science and our entrepreneurial culture. We are focused on delivering life-changing medicines that are fueling growth and contributing value to patients and society.

Placing emphasis on making the company a great place to work is going to be essential to our continued evolution and is something our leadership takes seriously. I am proud of the journey we have been on. There have been bumps along the way, but we have managed to persevere. We put our patients first and adapt our strategy to ensure we continue to bring forward life-changing medicines. I am excited for this journey we are on and what the future brings.

4. As someone here in the BioHealth Capital Region. Where do you see the biggest gaps, and how would you recommend they are addressed?

One of the gaps I see in the BioHealth community, which I have seen more than ever efforts to address, is inclusion and diversity. Companies have to be more intentional in these efforts, from our hiring practices to how we lead our teams. Representation matters, as a Latina female in this space, it can feel lonely at times.

A lot of Pharma companies are putting in the effort to make positive changes in this space. We have to continue the momentum until we see tangible results. Companies have to set bolder goals around I&D and get better data around it. The business case for I&D is undeniable and will be a key component of building the workforce of the future.

5. What fictional character do you identify with the most and why?

This is a hard one for me as I am not that into fiction. If I had to pick, I would say Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games (movie/book) would be who I identify with the most. I have a hard time staying silent when things are happening around me that I feel wrong. I stand up for what I believe in and have no problems speaking up. I have crossed a lot of challenges and adversity in my life, I have faced them all head-on to the best of my ability. I love to a good challenge. I will do anything to protect those I love and care about. I think in those aspects, Katniss and I are very similar. Of course, I cannot shoot a bow and arrow to save my life, but I would certainly give it a try!

Thank you Raphaella Thorson, R&D Learning Technology Leader, AstraZeneca for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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