Dr. Anax Oliveira started at Lhasa in September (remotely from Brazil) two months later, Alison checks in to see how things are going. Learn about Anax’s passion for toxicology, career to date, biggest inspiration, plans for his new role at Lhasa and last but not least, where we should all visit in Brazil, in this Q&A session – enjoy!
How is everything going so far at Lhasa? Lhasa has a good atmosphere and people are very friendly and collaborative, which is great. Even with the challenges of starting a new job completely remotely, I feel I am being supported by everyone in Lhasa which helps me a lot. Although I’m still in the process of knowing people and their work, building connections and getting used to the new environment, I’ve already met a lot of smart and nice people and I am excited about the potential and the impact that Lhasa is bringing to the science and the society. I want to be part of this.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your life so far? I was born in a small town in the North East of Brazil. I moved to São Paulo more than a decade ago, which was kind of a shocking experience at that time, but very impactful and important to my life and career. I have a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a PhD in Toxicology. During my PhD at the University of São Paulo, I lived in Cambridge (UK) for a few months, where I was a visiting PhD student at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry. Science has always fascinated me. During my time in academia, I thought I would build a career there. However, as soon as I finished my PhD, I got the opportunity to work as a Toxicologist in a Pharmaceutical company, which actually opened my eyes to another world where my work as a scientist could make a difference to people’s lives. After that, I had the chance to move to a global personal care company, where I had the responsibility of providing safety assessment of raw materials and finished products for the Latin American region. That was an important step in my career as I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge as a Toxicologist to other types of products, work in a less regulated and very dynamic environment (with all the challenges associated with it) and be exposed to the reality of other countries apart from Brazil, as I was part of a global team.
Outside of work I enjoy cooking and entertaining with my friends and family, gardening, travelling around Brazil and abroad, exploring the colours, shapes and flavours that São Paulo (a very cosmopolitan city) has to offer. I used to play the flute in an orchestra when I was a teenager and just recently I decided to start playing the flute again.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why? My grandmother, Adalgisa (dad’s mom), who left us a couple of years ago. She did not have the chance to go to school, but learnt how to read, write, and do maths by herself and then taught the children in her village. She was curious about nature and taught me that curiosity. This has influenced me a lot both in my career and in the way that I live. She had a huge garden and every time I went to visit her, she would ask me to find a specific herb in the garden for her to make us a tea – I now realise how many lessons I’ve learnt through such a simple way of living. Those memories of her wisdom, optimism and bravery are a real source of inspiration to me.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given? A professor, who I admire a lot, once told me that we should choose wisely where we want to put our energy and efforts. As young people we think we can do everything and that is basically true, but at some point thinking more about the battles we want to fight can save us a lot of energy that can be used on the things we wisely decide to do. I have been practicing that and I have found it incredibly powerful.
When did you first hear about Lhasa? When I worked for Aché Pharmaceuticals, who are a Lhasa member. One of my colleagues there already had access to Derek Nexus at that time and we were trying to implement the ICH M7 workflow.
What appeals to you about Lhasa? Although I am quite new to working within Lhasa, I have been working with Lhasa for several years as a member organisation. From a member perspective, I have always admired the fact that Lhasa is really focused on its members and uses good scientific knowledge to help people to solve problems. Another thing that attracts me is the progressive way of thinking and the impact that the organisation can bring in terms of sharing knowledge, reducing animal testing and contributing to the development of safe products.
What plans do you have for your new role? My key area of expertise is toxicological risk assessment of different types of products. I’ve never worked on the development of an in silico tool myself, although I understand the principles behind it. By knowing how great Lhasa’s team of scientists are, I think this is a good match. My expectation is that with my experience of being a user of those tools and understanding the demands and ways of working within the industry, I will be able to make strategic decisions and guide the team in terms of where and how we can progress.
I think that in silico tools could bring more impact within the toxicology field too, where we are facing big changes currently. It does not mean it will be easy, because there is no easy change, but I think we are well equipped to go through this, so I expect to help Lhasa in that journey. We should fight for what is right and not what is easy.
Why have you chosen toxicology as your area of expertise? Since my first contact with toxicology (as a science during my undergraduate) I felt very intrigued by the fact that Toxicology is so close to our daily lives. If you look at toxicology retrospectively, a lot of our history was impacted by it. Every day we wake up and get exposed to thousands of different chemicals, from the air we breathe, the water we drink, to the toothpaste we choose and medications we need to take. Understanding the dynamics of those compounds in our body and considering the environment and consequences is really fascinating to me. Another thing that makes me interested in Toxicology is its multidisciplinary facet, which challenges me to make sense of a combination of chemistry, biology and statistics alongside other aspects to understand it. This also exposes me to different groups of people with different expertise and makes me grow as a Scientist.
What are you most looking forward to when you relocate to the UK? Getting the chance to meet people and work with them in person is something that I look forward to from a professional perspective. Apart from that, there is the curiosity of learning new cultural habits, discovering new ways of living and meeting new people. I also have some friends living in the UK, so I am looking forward to seeing them more regularly. I am also curious to know more of the UK – I know there are a lot of parks and beautiful landscapes that are worth seeing across the country.
What is most challenging about working from Brazil currently? I am already used to working remotely, as in my previous job I was the only team member working in Brazil. On reflection this experience has been very helpful, given that the whole world is now doing the same during the pandemic. However, one of the biggest challenges of it is building connections and getting to know people better, normal spontaneous chats in the corridor or kitchen can be very helpful when starting a new job. Once you get to know people better, the working together is easier. I thought I would have issues with the time zone difference, however, slight working pattern adjustments have helped this.
If we were to visit one place in Brazil (post pandemic) where should we go? This is a hard question to answer, firstly because Brazil is huge and very diverse, secondly because I tend to be biased and say: go to the North East. I will try to give a more objective answer and also give some tips. If you like the beach, I would say that anywhere in the North East coast is a great call – from Rio Grande do Norte (my home state) to Bahia. There are a lot of particularities in each state, but overall you will find beautiful landscapes, great food, warm water and warm people. If I can name some places for people to look at, I would say Pipa (in Rio Grande do Norte), Porto de Galinhas (in Pernambuco) and the beaches around Ilhéus in the south of Bahia. If you are a fan of hiking and waterfalls, the Chapada dos Veadeiros is the place to go. It is located close to Brasilia, in the central region of the country, where the vegetation is quite unique. You can always get refreshed in astonishing waterfalls at the end of a long walk in this mesmerising wilderness. Last but not least, I can’t miss out one of my favourite places in the South East coast, which is Paraty. Apart from taking a boat to sail to beautiful surrounding islands where you can see turtles, star fish and sea life, the historical city centre has a preserved architecture from the imperial period, where just walking around the dozens of local shops or having a good meal outside will make you feel detached from the conventional time and space perceptions.
Below are a few pictures of Anax’s favourite locations in Brazil, as captured by Anax. From left to right; Pipa, Paraty and Bahia.
Thank you Anax! Not only are we excited to see what you will do at Lhasa, but we are also very keen to visit Brazil as soon as possible!
Did you enjoy this blog? Please let us know.
What else would you like us to write about? Please let us know.