To our alumni:
This alumni corner is set up so that current undergraduate students at Binghamton can find out more about varied careers and paths toward those careers that you have taken. If you are willing to share your experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUSTEN NG (B.S. Biochemistry 2001) writes to Dr. Karl Wilson from his exciting position as Associate Scientist at Biogen, one of the fastest growing biotechnology countries in the U.S. Here is what Austen says about being at a biotechnology company about to grow by 1000 positions, and how to prepare for a job in industry.
"In my 7.5 months of employment, I realized that the biology/biochemistry program of Binghamton is really good in preparing graduates for challenges in the biotech industry. Many of the concepts/skills that I apply at Biogen were attained at Binghamton (concepts like protein characterization, protein behavior in various conditions, glycoforms of proteins, and various chromatography methods). Of course, there is a lot more to learn once one is in industry (ie. prevention of aggregate formation; clearance of contaminating virus, nucleotides, and host cell protein; scale-up from bench scale to large scale). I was fortunate enough to conduct independent study in Dr. Gal's lab and picked up many of my skills from that experience as well as from the lab courses. The Biochemistry core courses did the their part by providing all of the key biochemical concepts needed to back up the skills. Cell Biology and Immunology are also important courses, although I don't recall them being a part of the Biochemistry core curriculum.
Biogen is divided into 3 main areas: Research, Product Development, and Manufacturing (for large scale manufacturing). Each division is further branched into smaller groups with different specialties. For example, I am in the Process Biochemistry (PBC) group of the Product Development division. The Research division determines which proteins are potential biologics. That is transferred to Cell Culture for small scale production. The protein media is then given to PBC and we determine the optimal method of purifying the proteins using chromatography (HIC, ion exchangers, metal chelate affinity). Once we purify the proteins, we would analyze them using gels, HPLC, ELISAs, etc. But it's not that easy. Developing and validating a purification process takes a while. The purification method not only has to isolate the product from other proteins (not to mention viruses and nucleotides), but it also has to allow the product to be in its native and active form. In an academic research laboratory, one would usually add thiols to renature proteins, but that is not recommended in industry. If renaturants are added to the product, then one would have to take additional steps to ensure that the purification process will remove the renaturant. The FDA is really strict about this. In general, the less you add to the bioreactor, the better. The process must also be robust in that the product yields, recovered titers, mass balances, and product qualities must consistently fall within specified numerical ranges. If these variables don't consistently fall within the ranges, the process is not robust and it must be fine tuned for it to be so. So, to make the story short, I purify proteins and that's my duty.
I do encourage juniors to participate in independent study and to think creatively instead of memorizing. Just as important, public speaking and learning to convey information to groups of people is a must. That's all for now and godspeed to you and all the talented biology professors at Binghamton!