Issue Date: December 10, 2007
An Express Lane to Careers in Proteomics And Genomics
THE BIOTECH INDUSTRY hungers for talent. "As part of such a rapidly growing industry, biotechnology firms often demand a greater number of skilled workers than are available and are projected to need more workers than are currently in training programs," notes a 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, the most current report available. Even though business has been difficult lately for the pharmaceutical and biopharma industries (C&EN, Nov. 19, pages 32 and 34), companies continue to look for scientists to help them move forward.
During the past decade, an academic model known as the "Professional Science Master's" (PSM) was established to train science and mathematics students in the workplace skills highly valued by employers. According to the Science Master's website (www.sciencemasters.com), these programs "consist of two years of academic training in an emerging or interdisciplinary area, along with a professional component that may include internships and 'cross-training' in business and communications." In collaboration with industry, dozens of academic institutions across the country develop the programs, which are designed to match current and future professional opportunities.
Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences (KGI), a member of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of eight California institutions, enrolled its first class of 28 students in August 2000 in its Master of Bioscience program. The applicant pool at KGI now reaches about 200 people per year. Approximately 100 students enroll annually in the two-year program in one of five focus tracks: biomedical devices and diagnostics, pharmaceutical discovery and development, bioprocessing, business of biocience, and clinical and regulatory affairs.
Sheldon Schuster, KGI's president, was previously director of the biotechnology program and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. He says the hybrid degree produces graduates who understand both the business and the science aspects of industry.
"We take the program's hands-on, team-based philosophy very seriously," he says. "We emphasize team skills right from the beginning—they're also the best way to teach leadership. The students who come here have incredible potential."
THE STUDENTS who apply have a broad range of science and technology undergraduate majors. According to Schuster, about 40% of applicants enter the program with one or two years of work experience, and most have a bachelor's degree.
Line Martinsen is an alumna from the inaugural KGI class of 2002 who studied proteomics and genomics. Martinsen received her B.Sc. with honors in biochemistry with biotechnology in 2000 from the University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology, in England. She went straight from earning her B.Sc. to KGI.
"I decided to attend KGI because I was intrigued by the mix of subjects that would give me a broad knowledge in many different areas, such as marketing, business management, and finance, combined with bioinformatics, bioengineering, and, of course, biochemistry," Martinsen says. "In a master's or Ph.D., you specialize in one particular area," she says, speaking of traditional programs. "But I wanted to learn more about many different subjects."
Very early in the program, Martinsen decided she wanted to pursue a career in marketing and business for a life sciences company because of the marketing and business courses she took. "I had some very good teachers and mentors who really opened my eyes to the different career paths available to me," she says.
The first year of the program is the same for all students. During orientation, students work in teams on an intensive project to analyze an event that occurred in industry. An example of such a project is the "Gleevec case." When Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz Laboratories were merging in 1996 to become Novartis, Gleevec-an anticancer agent then in clinical trials-was considered to be a $100 million drug at best, and Novartis was considering dropping it. Brian Druker, a consultant to the company who ran clinical trials on Gleevec, convinced Novartis to continue the trials. Gleevec went on to become wildly successful and revolutionized the way cancer is treated.
At KGI, the student team that analyzed this case learned how a nonemployee can be extremely influential in the commercial success of a company. The team received an award on the basis of their selection of topic (there are many topics within the Gleevec case they could have chosen), how well they worked together, and the quality of their presentation and report.
Following this orientation, students take a common set of application-based technical courses and lecture courses in business and bioethics. The students cap off their first year working in a required, paid summer internship at a bioscience company. Students are offered an average of two to three internships, according to Schuster, and about 35% of them later convert those internships into full-time jobs. Martinsen's internship experience was at Nanostream, a microfluidics company in Pasadena, Calif. At the time, the company was a small start-up, and Martinsen's work there exposed her to the entrepreneurial side of the business.
In the second year of the program, students choose their focus track. In addition, teams of four or five students work for an entire year on the capstone Team Masters Project (TMP) with sponsoring companies to solve real scientific and business problems at the companies.
According to Schuster, "Companies such as Amgen, Amylin, Gilead Sciences, and Applied Biosystems, as well as smaller companies, come back year after year to participate." Companies pay $55,000 per year for the opportunity. A company liaison is assigned to work with the students, who sign confidentiality agreements. The liason and students together develop timelines, budgets, and deliverables. The TMP concludes with a confidential presentation and report to the sponsoring company, as well as a public presentation at the school.
For her TMP, Martinsen and her group researched the various single nucleotide polymorphism technologies on the market for Beckman Coulter and how the company could improve its internal technology transfer within its different divisions. Through her TMP she was able to observe the challenges of a large company and how these challenges could be turned into opportunities for growth.
KGI'S PHARMACEUTICAL discovery and development track teaches students the technical processes in drug discovery, clinical development, and regulatory approval for pharmaceutical and biological products. The skills they acquire can take them to large pharmaceutical companies, small biotech firms, or even government regulatory agencies.
This track includes an active proteomics and genomics program. Deb N. Chakravarti is the Beckman Professor of Applied Life Sciences and director of proteomics at KGI.
Chakravarti immerses his students in the field so they can learn how it relates to drug discovery and development. For example, "students learn how to apply proteomics and genomics to identify bacterial gene products as potential vaccine candidates," he says. "They learn how these candidates are determined in silico and how they are validated using state-of-the-art proteomics techniques."
As an example of the hands-on work, students learn how to separate complex mixtures of proteins, such as bacterial extracts, by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, gel-image analysis, and high-throughput identification of proteins by tandem mass spectrometry. To accomplish this assignment, they also learn how to use software to identify proteins by searching sequence databases with the data from their mass spectra.
Students in their second year also have the option to carry out an individual research project such as identifying vaccine proteins in Staphylococcus aureus or setting up a proteomics database. In addition, they have the opportunity to submit review articles to peer-reviewed journals.
AFTER GRADUATION, Martinsen worked as a product manager for Invitrogen. In 2006, she became a marketing manager for Qiagen, a provider of sample and assay technologies, where she manages the company's protein portfolio, planning and executing the business strategy for Qiagen's protein products globally.
"I really enjoy my job," she says. "Meeting customers and training our sales force across the world is giving me invaluable experience in how to translate our strategy into tactics on a global level but at the same time taking cultural and regional differences into consideration. My experience at KGI taught me how to speak the language of both science and business, something which is essential in a marketing function because you have to effectively communicate the value of the products coming out of R&D into the market."
KGI's corporate partners are equally enthusiastic about the program. Gilead Sciences, a research-based biopharmaceutical company based in Foster City, Calif., has been a corporate partner for four years. Tony Caracciolo, senior vice president for manufacturing and operations, was asked to participate on KGI's advisory council, which led to Gilead participating at the academic level.
"We've had a lot of good experiences that turned out to be extremely valuable," says Caracciolo, who now serves on KGI's board of trustees.
The majority of projects that Gilead has brought to KGI focus on operations and development, for example, planning and implementing processes around chemical dispensing with an automated system. The output, Caracciolo says, "resulted in a process that is now fully integrated in Gilead's San Dimas, Calif., facility. It has improved the accuracy and efficiency of our automated chemical dispensing system."
The key difference between KGI and a traditional graduate program, he says, is the TMP. "It provides opportunities to become familiar with how biopharma operates and interact firsthand with executives, managers, and technical people. At the same time, the companies have access to a resource with talented and technically capable individuals," Caracciolo says.
Christopher Rhodes, executive director of pharmaceutical science at Amylin Pharmaceuticals, is also a fan of KGI. Rhodes became involved because Amylin President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel M. Bradbury serves on KGI's board of trustees. "The students I've come across are very interested in applying their training in chemistry, biology, or biochemistry and also have business interests such as marketing or medical affairs," Rhodes says. "They graduate head and shoulders above their colleagues coming out with a pure-science B.S. or M.S. degree.
"Amylin has over 1,800 people and there isn't a single person in this company who doesn't work on or lead a cross-functional team. That's the way we work every day, and it's an important skill students at KGI learn," Rhodes adds.
Amylin has brought a variety of projects to KGI. One TMP evaluated delivery systems and developed a product-extension strategy for Symlin, a first-in-class injectable medication used with mealtime insulin to control blood sugar in adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
KGI graduates are well-established to come into industry and hit the ground running, Rhodes says. "As a B.S. chemist, I had no idea how a company worked even though I did an internship at Allied Signal. KGI students understand how business works and how technical work gets done in the business setting. They can come into my delivery technology evaluation group with an understanding of the science but also be able to complete a business case assessment."
Both Rhodes and Caracciolo emphasize one focus track as particularly significant. "An important part of the curriculum is training in regulatory affairs," Caracciolo says. Gilead has hired one KGI alumnus to work in the regulatory affairs group in addition to three others in R&D, sales and marketing, and manufacturing. Rhodes says Amylin has hired two graduates for its regulatory affairs group, one in his pharmaceutical science group, and a fourth on the commercial side.
With tuition plus additional costs of nearly $60,000 per year, the program is pricey. The program's value, however, is in the placement rate. "Within six months of graduation, 97% of graduates are employed in the life sciences industry in a diverse mix of positions from marketing to the lab-they can fit into so many areas of an organization and solve problems at all levels," Schuster says.
Schuster thinks the employment outlook is spectacular. "Looking at pharma, medical devices, diagnostics, biotech, and other areas, there are 1.5 million people in the biosciences industry. Just the replacement need for retirees is in the tens of thousands. When these companies grow, they have to do so at an incredible rate. I've talked to CEOs who say they desperately need the talent. It's a fantastic opportunity."
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society