UMBC Mic'd Up

Why Biotechnology is a Rapidly Growing Field

December 12, 2022 UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise Cardona and Mark Schenerman, Ph.D. Season 2 Episode 39
UMBC Mic'd Up
Why Biotechnology is a Rapidly Growing Field
Show Notes Transcript

Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field, especially in the state of Maryland. In fact, according to Mark Schenerman, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director, UMBC Biotechnology Graduate program, "Maryland is one of the leading centers in the country for cell and gene therapy. Companies in Maryland are trying to hire people as quickly as they can. They just can't find enough talent. They can't find enough trained people who are knowledgeable in the skills that they need. And that's what our program tries to give to our students, those skills that those companies really want."

Recent graduates in the Master's of Professional Studies Biotechnology Program can fit into a number of different career paths in industry. For example, helping to work on process development for cell culture process, process development for purification process, for formulation development, analytical development, quality control, quality assurance, project manager, and Regulatory Affairs. These are all very important areas that are growing very rapidly in the state of Maryland. There's lots of opportunity.

"It's a very satisfying career to be in, knowing that you could be working on a drug that can make a tremendous difference to a large number of people, to millions of people."  Mark Schenerman, Ph.D.

Learn more about UMBC's M.P.S. in Biotechnology:

Check out Mark's favorite book: Truman by David McCullough:

Dennise Cardona  0:00  

Welcome to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs. Today we are joined by Dr. Mark Schenerman, Graduate Program Director of UMBC's graduate programs in Biotechnology. We hope that you enjoy this episode. Thank you so much Mark, for being here with us today. It's wonderful to have you.

Mark S  0:22  

It's great to be here. Thank you.

Dennise Cardona  0:24  

All right, so we are going to chat today about biotechnology. You are the graduate program director for UMBC's graduate program in biotechnology. And really, I think it'd be really interesting for listeners or people viewing this on YouTube, to hear from you about what your path to get to your current role here at UMBC looked like, how did you know biotech was the right career choice for you?

Mark S  0:53  

Yeah, that's a really interesting question Dennise. And I sort of followed a bit of an unconventional path to get into biotechnology. I started as a UMBC alumnus. And my intention was to get an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biochemistry. So I went three years at the Catonsville campus with that in mind, and then a friend of mine told me about an opportunity to do my senior year at the University of Maryland and Baltimore City campus and get my degree in medical technology. So that's what I wound up doing. It was a terrific experience, because it gave me more direct knowledge and direct contact with patients. I had to learn how to actually draw blood from patients and then test their blood and clinical labs to help physicians diagnose different diseases. That was a fantastic experience and led me directly into a job as a medical technologist. I was able to right out of school with my bachelor's degree get a job working first at the University of Maryland hospital, blood bank, supporting shock, trauma. And then after that, I worked at a small orthopedic hospital called carnian Hospital. So all of this work was with the long term goal of going to graduate school because I knew that I loved scientific research and medical research, and knew that I wanted to get more deeply involved in that. So I did start graduate school. And I went to graduate school at the University of Florida. in biochemistry, that's where I got my PhD degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. And I was very fortunate, in my last year of graduate school, that my advisor happened to know a scientist at Cornell, a very prestigious scientist from Racker. They invited him to come and lecture down in Gainesville in Florida. And I got to meet him, I got to talk with him. And he, we found that we had a lot of things in common interests in our research. And he invited me to come up and do a postdoctoral study at Cornell and his lab. So again, that was a fantastic experience that really gave me a tremendous foundation in scientific research, biochemistry, research, and eventually medical research. But as I was sort of finishing up my second year as a postdoc at Cornell, and interacting with the other postdocs that were working around me, and it was a fairly large lab, with four or five postdocs working in it, I began to realize that I was different from the other postdocs, I really had more of a desire to apply the scientific research, as opposed to coming up with theoretical pathways to explain the data. So I realized that I really wanted to work in industry, as opposed to going into academic research. And Dr. Racker basically told me, I really can't help you. You need to find something on your own. So I applied for an ad in a scientific journal, and I'm very fortunate to get a job at Bristol Myers Squibb company. And at that time in the early 80s I Biotechnology was really in its infancy. And Bristol Myers company was really just starting to get involved in it. They started with industrial enzymes and growth factors, and they eventually got into monoclonal antibodies. So over the course of six years at Bristol Myers Squibb, I worked on a wide variety of different types of products, eventually working on a product that became a commercial product, really after I left the company, but in 1994, I got a phone call from a recruiter, saying that a small biotech company in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was interested in recruiting me. And since I had come from Baltimore, and my wife was from Baltimore, we were anxious to come back to the area. So this was a great opportunity. So I joined MedImmune in 1994. And I had a terrific career there 23 years, working at MedImmune. So between my six years at Bristol Myers Squibb, 23 years at MedImmune and now AstraZeneca. That's really over 30 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry. I left AstraZeneca about five years ago and went into private consulting. And then when the pandemic started, I guess I got a call from some of my former colleagues at AstraZeneca, who had now moved over to NovaVax. And they said, we have a vaccine we're working on for COVID. And we really need your help. So I went to work for NovaVax for a year working on their vaccine. And then I went back into private consulting and started this job at UMBC.

Dennise Cardona  6:58  

Wow, that is quite a pathway. And I know that people listening in, it's so inspiring always to listen to how other people have navigated their path on their career, because it can take so many different twists and turns and yours did it seems you went from various different types of hands on applied theoretical, working with patients even I mean, so, you know, do you ever miss working hands on with with patients?

Mark S  7:28  

Yeah, no, I don't. You know, that was a good experience to have. I sort of knew all along that I didn't want to go to medical school. So I didn't necessarily want hands-on clinical work. I was a lot more interested in the laboratory measurements related to health. Yeah. And that's really what led me more toward the biotechnology industry.

Dennise Cardona  7:54  

And I think having that experience working hands on with patients gives you a level of compassion and empathy for the work that you did in the lab, because there is a person behind everything you're doing in that lab. And what a great purpose that is. I mean, working on the vaccine, that must have been just an amazing opportunity to be able to be of service really to the world at large. That was a purposeful thing. What would you say excites you most about the biotechnology field?

Mark S  8:27  

I'd say what excites me the most is the opportunity to have completely novel innovative approaches to disease. When I was at AstraZeneca, I was very fortunate to work on oncology drugs for over 10 years. And it's so exciting how much things have changed in treating different types of cancers. That used to be, you know, 10/15 years ago, a lot of types of cancers that really have no hope. Once you had gone past the initial rounds of chemotherapy, if your cancer was resistant to it, there was really nothing else to be done. Now there are so many different biologics approaches: immune modulators, cell and gene therapy. It's so exciting. There's really a lot of new opportunity and a lot of new hope for these patients who had no hope before.

Dennise Cardona  9:29  

Yeah, it's changing the landscape of healthcare of wellness really, and I have a neighbor directly next door to me who is in the biotech field and she worked for I think it's Kite Pharma. And she works on biologics that work with cancer patients. It's like targeted right to it's made for each patient individually. And it's for people in state or Yeah, and she said that it's amazing. They're just the remarkable outcomes that they have from these New advances in technology and biotech. It's really, it's amazing. What kind Can you talk a little bit for those who are listening in who may be considering the biotechnology field? Maybe they have no idea. They never even like they have no idea what it actually entails? Can you talk a little bit about what the nature of the biotechnology industry is like, in your opinion? Why is it essential to the world?

Mark S  10:25  

Yeah, so biotechnology is a very broad term. And it can, it can apply to a lot of different things. Our focus at UMBC is really more on biopharmaceutical applications of biotechnology. So really, there's a lot of different ways that people can turn that into a career path. Working in biotechnology usually means producing a drug from a biological system. Usually from cells, for example, it could be bacterial cells, that could could be mammalian cells. But these cells are either producing a protein or a virus or nucleic acids are something that has to be purified and has to be concentrated and put into a suitable dosage form. So it can be administered to a patient. So there's lots of opportunities for ways for people to make a difference in all of that. You can work on what's called upstream manufacturing, which is basically the process of growing the cells to a very large scale to produce the drug, you could work on downstream processing, which is the purification of the drug and getting it ready for dosing to patients. You can work in the area that was my specialty, which is analytical development and quality control. So that's developing the test methods to ensure that the drug is the right purity, the right potency. And then it has the stability needed to carry all the way through to the shelf life of the character. And then there's Regulatory Affairs, people that need to have a scientific background, but still understand the government regulations that are needed that apply to drugs, that are project managers, again, people that need to have a scientific background, but bring together the cross functional teams, the different disciplines, so they can work in a coordinated fashion to meet the goals for the company. Those are just some examples. There are lots of other career paths in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Dennise Cardona  12:57  

In your opinion, what do biotechnology organizations need in terms of, say, knowledge, skills and abilities from their employees? So a personal perspective student of our biotechnology program, what kind of KSAs are they looking at that they need to develop?

Mark S  13:15  

So because I used to be a hiring manager for a biopharmaceutical company, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what companies are looking for. Really, it's best for students to try and diversify their skills and their knowledge. Obviously, having a good technical background and understanding biochemistry and bio manufacturing processes is very helpful. But that's not all you need. You also need to have what we call people skills or soft skills, where you can demonstrate that you can work together with people in cross functional teams. And then having some understanding of working in a regulated environment is very helpful. So learning about FDA regulations or European medicine agency regulations, it's helpful to put the scientific data in the context of the regulations.

Dennise Cardona  14:21  

Yeah. What would you say are the top benefits of working in biotech in your opinion?

Mark S  14:28  

Well, it always comes down to helping people you know, what impact can you have, what difference can you make to improve people's health? And you know, most any company that you're going to get a job at that they're going to that's going to be their main goal is improving people's health.

Dennise Cardona  14:49  

And that's quite the purpose. Yeah, absolutely. Quite a purpose. 

Mark S  14:54  

And it's a very satisfying career to be in because I happen to be very fortunate that I worked on two or three drugs, all the way from the, from the point of discovery through to commercialization. And that that is, that's a wonderful place to be in to really see a drug evolve all the way through this phase.

Dennise Cardona  15:19  

What would you say to a prospective student who, you know, is going to graduate school? It is a time cost. Is it an actual cost? What would you say to somebody who is wondering, is there going to be a job for me at the end of this at the end of this graduate program? Will I be able to find work in this field?

Mark S  15:40  

Yes, it's a rapidly growing field, especially in the state of Maryland, and Maryland is a fantastic growth area for biotechnology. It's one of the leading centers in the country for selling gene therapy. So companies in Maryland are trying to hire people as quickly as they can, they just can't find enough talent, they can't find enough trained people who are knowledgeable in the skills that they need. And that's what our program tries to give to our students is those skills that those companies really want.

Dennise Cardona  16:19  

So what does our program prepare students to do once they graduate? You know, what are the main objectives of the program to get them to that point where they are those successful graduates who go out there and get those jobs? Those employers are looking at them and saying, These are the people we need to hire? Yeah,

Mark S  16:39  

I mean, I hope students from our program that graduate come away with a good understanding of how the business businesses operate, biotechnology businesses, understanding that it's a sort of an entrepreneurial culture. Often, the employees have to wear a lot of different hats. So they have to understand all the aspects of the business. And we try to help our students understand a broad context for how the biotechnology business operates. We give them not only some scientific foundation, but also some courses on the business itself. What are the financial aspects of the business? What are some ethical questions and legal questions that need to be addressed by the business? What does it mean to be a leader in the biotechnology business? And then how do you actually design experiments and analyze data and interpret data? So those are, I think, some of the key skills we hope our students come away with.

Dennise Cardona  17:58  

And what types of positions can graduates of our biotech program expect to be in when they first emerge into the world of biotechnology, as recent graduates?

Mark S  18:09  

Recent graduates in the Master's of Professional Studies Biotechnology Program can fit into a number of different career paths in industry. Certainly, some of the ones that I mentioned before, like, for example, helping to work on process development for cell culture process, process development for purification process for formulation development, analytical development, quality control, quality assurance, project manager and Regulatory Affairs, those, those are all very important areas that are growing very rapidly in the state of Maryland. And there's lots of opportunity.

Dennise Cardona  18:59  

That's fantastic. Now, my last question to you is how can a student get the most out of this program? Somebody who is just really primed, wants to do their best? What are some of the things that they need to pay attention to when they're in our programs so they can, then it can catapult them to a great career?

Mark S  19:20  

I think we're looking for students who are ambitious and anxious to learn new things about the industry. I think that the type of information the type of knowledge that we help students gain is not the type of thing that you typically would get in a bachelor's degree like in biology or chemistry or biochemistry. Where you're really learning practical knowledge about how the business operates. You're really gaining a good understanding of what it's like to work day to day in that particular career. And you're hearing from people who actually work in the industry now, we have guest speakers and a lot of our courses that are currently working in industry or the FDA. So students can sort of hear it directly from the horse's mouth, so to speak, by our faculty in general, and all of our courses have a lot of industry experiences, as I've already said, my, my experiences over 30 years in the biopharmaceutical industry, but we have many other faculty with that have over 20 years experience.

Dennise Cardona  20:42  

Yeah, that's what a benefit that is, it's such an advantageous element to the program is that having those instructors who are out there rolling up their sleeves doing the work, and they know how it is out there, and they can bring that to the classroom that is so valuable really is? Yes. Is there anything else that I have not asked you about our program or biotechnology in general that you wish to leave listeners and viewers with?

Mark S  21:08  

I think one thing you want to leave with is just to just to know that it's a very satisfying career to be in to know that you could be working on a drug, that can make a tremendous difference to a large number of people to millions of people. Just to give another example, I was very fortunate to work on a drug that eventually was approved for pediatric patients. And you hear a lot in the news about RSV. Nowadays, I was very fortunate to work on the first monoclonal antibody that was approved to prevent RSV infection in high risk infants. And that was a drug that I'd worked on all the way from the point of discovery through to approval. It's tremendously rewarding to know that you're making a difference for such tiny patients who really wouldn't have any other chance because there was no vaccine available, and no antiviral available. 

Dennise Cardona  22:20  

Yeah, that is powerful. Now, this last part would like to segue, I'm going to segue into this new part of our podcast episodes that we want to add, we want to add a professional development type of thing by asking our guests rapid fire questions about professional development. Are you game?

Mark S  22:38  

I'm game. All right.

Dennise Cardona  22:40  

What is your favorite book, Mark?

Mark S  22:43  

My favorite book is David McCullough's book about Truman. And the reason is, first of all, Truman had so many difficult decisions to make. So I mean, he took over at a difficult time in American history, World War Two was still raging. And Roosevelt had just died. And Truman really wasn't very knowledgeable about how to become president. But it right away, he had to make some big decisions, like, Should I drop the atomic bomb? How do you make decisions like that? He just, he, surrounded himself with advisers that he respected people who he listened to their points of view. And he just made decisions and moved forward, and didn't look back. And he just is the kind of leader that I really aspire to always be.

Dennise Cardona  23:53  

That sounds like a really great, really great book, what is the greatest piece of advice that you ever received?

Mark S  23:59  

I think the best piece of advice I ever heard anybody tell me was to follow the thing that you love. Find the thing you love and follow through on it as far as you can. If you stick with what you love, you're always going to be in a good place. 

Dennise Cardona  24:20  

I like that. That's powerful. Finish this phrase for me, failure is...

Mark S  24:26  

So in the biopharmaceutical industry, failures, not an option. We have to succeed because so many people are depending on us. So I don't look at it as failure because drugs fail all the time. That's just the expected. I mean, really eight out of 10 drugs fail. That's just par for the course. But it's what you learn from the failure that makes the difference. And when you apply that learning going forward, that's when you can become successful out of failure.

Dennise Cardona  25:07  

Yeah. What do you wish that you learned sooner in life?

Mark S  25:10  

I wish I had learned sooner how to be an effective communicator. I wasn't always a good public speaker, that was actually kind of afraid of it initially. And just learn to overcome that and make it an asset instead of a detriment.

Dennise Cardona  25:33  

That's really great. Last question for you. What do you feel is the key to success?

Mark S  25:39  

So I think the key to success, at least in the biopharmaceutical industry, is collaboration, effective collaboration, really, listening well to other people, understanding their points of view, and integrating that with the overall plan for your project. That's really what makes the biggest difference and makes an effective team. 

Dennise Cardona  26:08  

Mark, this has been such a pleasure. I loved having this conversation, I learned a lot more about biotech in the world of it and the purpose and really the critical importance of it in this world. So thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. We really appreciate it.

Mark S  26:23  

Thank you. It was a pleasure being here.

Dennise Cardona  26:25  

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. If you'd like to learn more about UMBC Biotechnology graduate programs, visit the link in the show notes.