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How do you attract young talent to nuclear medicine? Ask Ken Herrmann and Valentina Ambrosini

It’s a tricky topic in the radiopharmaceutical space at present – but Matthew Palmer got insights on the market for young talent from Ken and Valentina


Nuclear medicine is finally having its moment. Radiopharmaceuticals are poised to bring about a sea change in the treatment of cancer – though to make sure innovation in the space remains at the cutting edge, having the right talent is arguably the single most important aspect.


It was this topic that led Ken Herrmann and Valentina Ambrosini, from Essen University Hospital and the University of Bologna respectively, to co-author an article for the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. This, in turn, caught the attention of our Senior Oncology R&D Consultant, Matthew Palmer.


Matt invited Ken and Valentina to speak about their findings and their own insights on this topic on the Venari Podcast. So, what do the co-authors think about addressing the generation gap in nuclear medicine, and what are the implications of their research?


Scaling up

As members of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine’s Oncology & Theranostics Committee, Ken and Valentina have discussed the main drivers and potential hurdles for nuclear medicine scaling in great detail. Indeed, Ken describes the need for a successful scale-up in nuclear medicine as ‘one of the big challenges we need to make therapy widely available.’


Prevailing themes

They mention the following trends as being particularly important here:


  • Patient referral (i.e., ensuring patients know the treatments exist

  • Funding – ‘Reimbursement, but also making sure we don’t break the healthcare systems,’ Ken says

  • Talent, the single most important of the three topics


Ken and Valentina’s focus is twofold. On the one hand, there is a lack of medical professionals, both in Europe and further afield, with training in radiopharmaceuticals – and the current talent pool is ageing, so there is a greater need than ever to attract new blood. At the same time, Ken notes that since nuclear medicine is a growing field, ‘we have to grow bigger as a specialty’, so the Committee decided to take another approach.


Listening up

To better understand ‘all the Generation Z changes, the different behaviour, different emphasis on work-life balance’ in the field of radiopharmaceuticals, they first interviewed five young people from different countries for their thoughts. Valentina soon realised they needed a wider pool, however, which led to the creation of an anonymous survey. They received 190 answers from across Europe, which provided a much broader base for research.


‘It was partly interesting to understand that more than 70% of the people who answered the survey picture themselves in 10 years’ time who practise both patient care and research,’ Valentina notes. ‘What is important for young people is to drive their career in the correct direction’.


Mentoring and access programmes of note

Valentina was a little surprised to note the emphasis respondents placed on receiving mentoring, having assumed this would be a given. Elsewhere, there was also a clear desire among young talent to conduct more research, as well as interest in exchange programmes.


In addition the EANM, Ken highlights the ICPO Academy for Theranostics (although their focus usually falls outside the continent), as well as the RLT Academy. A programme co-run by the EANM, this Erasmus+ project offers a multi-step approach and separate residencies across Europe.


Such residencies would see candidates ‘visiting places where there are new tracers that are not available at their centres,’ Valentina says, ‘or mostly centres who also have the possibility to perform theranostics. So, the possibility to also follow patients doing radioligand therapy.’


Academia and industry in tandem

Teaching and opportunities for researching abroad are certainly important, but academia and industry must work together to nurture new talent in the radiopharmaceutical space – though Ken notes that the dynamics have shifted.


As a young resident researcher, he would have happily stayed until midnight if his boss asked him to, ‘and now things are completely different. People can choose. So now, we have to compete for people, we have to make the job attractive’. But how? Ken suggests:


  • Breaking down the walls between industry and academia, taking control of the disconnect in radiopharma between making money and academic kudos

  • Offering a healthy work-life balance

  • Providing mentoring and support for young talent to flourish


The need for exposure

Events such as lunch symposia at the EANM Future Congress offer good opportunities for cross-fertilisation between industry and academia, while Ken also underscores the importance of reaching out to potential radiopharmacologists early. ‘Everyone knows what cardiology is, everyone watches Grey’s Anatomy,’ he jokes. ‘I’m not aware of a theranostic therapy show. But I think it’s very important that we join forces there and make people aware of the field.’

Keeping up with the times


Indeed, as Valentina observes, ‘the last 20 years years of nuclear medicine clinics showed us is that there is a broad new field approaching nuclear medicine, which is the possibility to combine the diagnostic [with] the therapeutic’. The rapid development of radiopharmaceuticals makes research challenging, ‘because everything continuously changes. So you have to learn and adapt to the new ways of diagnosing and find the correct indication for treatments of new radiopharmaceuticals.’


Words of wisdom

What advice do our guests have for young people interested in a career in nuclear medicine? Valentina underscores the importance of intense study: something that goes for early-career academic residents as well as high school students. After that, she recommends sending out feelers for a way into this exciting area, citing an information programme that her university runs for secondary schools, as well as the need for people who wish to conduct novel research: ‘this will be the first step towards participating in much bigger trials and projects.’

For Ken, the primary motivator for working in nuclear medicine is the rapid pace. ‘you can actually really develop new therapies and in a certain time, which in my case is 15 years only, see them from being first in human to approval and really improving the outcome of cancer patients.’ The second angle he uses to try to tempt newcomers is to ask them: in what other field can you become rich while helping people?

‘We have to talk about this,’ he says. ‘Look at the acquisition of RayzeBio by BMS. I mean, $4.1 billion! This company didn't exist three or four years ago. So I think it's actually a fantastic thing [...] You don't have to [create] a phone app or you don't have to be Taylor Swift to do something good. You can do nuclear medicine.’


If you need advice on your nuclear medicine talent strategy, please just get in touch.


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