UMBC Mic'd Up

Advancing in Cell & Gene Therapy at UMBC

January 03, 2023 UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise Cardona and Darren Dasburg Season 3 Episode 40
UMBC Mic'd Up
Advancing in Cell & Gene Therapy at UMBC
Show Notes Transcript

In the field of Biotechnology, the focus on cell & gene therapy continues to advance our potential to improve lives. UMBC's Biotechnology Graduate Programs offers special topic courses that help their students achieve success in the field, courses like BTEC 691, Cell and Gene Therapy. 

In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up Podcast, we chat with graduate faculty, Darren Dasburg, M.B.A. about the course, the field of Biotechnology in general, and the amazing work being discovered in cell and gene therapy. 


0:00 Introduction to Darren Dasburg

4:25 Career path

6:15 The importance of networking in a professional setting

11:32 Entrance into the biotech world

14:34 CRISPR 

19:57 Favorite part of the biotech field

25:22 What is on biotech company radar

28:07 Where students should begin

34:33 What’s your favorite book

Darren Dasburg's favorite author: 

Walter Isaacson 

If you'd like to learn more about UMBC's Biotechnology Graduate Programs, visit us

About Darren Dasburg: 

Bringing over 39 years of technical operations experience in a variety of small and large molecule settings, Darren Dasburg recently departed AstraZeneca as Vice President Global PMO & Strategy in 2017 after his role as Site GM for the Boulder Manufacturing Center beginning in September 2015 when AstraZeneca/MedImmune acquired the former Amgen biologics production facility, retrofitted and started up through 2017. He is currently in advancing discussions for cell and gene therapy start-ups. 

Previously, Darren held the position of Vice President MedI BioVentures building partnerships in Korea, Japan and China for biosimilar development. Before then, VP of Capacity Utilization with where he led the first of its kind capacity sharing arrangement to support bio-manufacturing production. Prior to that, he was a Founding Partner in a consulting venture where he provided executive management team leadership in the areas of technical operations, manufacturing operations, project management, and business strategy. Darren did his formative years and ultimately served as Vice President of Corporate Engineering with GlaxoSmithKline.

Darren holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University and a MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and advanced certificates in biotechnology from MIT. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in North Carolina and has worked on the ISPE Bio Mfg Conference since its inception.

Dennise Cardona  0:00  

Welcome to this episode of UMBC Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC. Today we are joined by Darren Dasburg. He is a graduate faculty in the UMBC's Biotechnology graduate programs. And we are going to be talking about cell and gene therapy, a course that he has in that for UMBC students, and the world of biotechnology at large. We hope that you enjoy this episode. Well, welcome Darren, it's so nice to have you here on UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. Thanks for being here.

Darren Dasburg  0:34  

I'm really pleased to be here. Thank you. 

Dennise Cardona  0:36  

So you teach a course in cell and gene therapy. Is that correct? 

Darren Dasburg  0:42  

Yes. Yes. 

Dennise Cardona  0:43  

So I would love to hear more about it. I know, our viewers, anybody viewing this on YouTube, or listening to it on a podcast channel would probably love to hear a little bit about that, because it is a hot topic out there in the biotechnology world. And could you just give us a little background on the course that you teach?

Darren Dasburg  1:01  

Absolutely. So this semester was the first semester that we've taught cell and gene therapies as a Special Topics class. So BTEC 691, for all the UMBC people, and we will teach it again this spring. And where it came about from was a discussion in ISP, which is a big industry group. And what we were finding is that we're really struggling with the number of people that we can attract to this industry, right? STEM graduates specifically. And what we find is that the STEM graduates are coming out of school with chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and then they look at pharmaceutical jobs. And they don't see any of those, they, they don't translate to process engineer, validation engineer and things like that. They don't understand the flexibilities in QA and QC and things. So they just assume they should go off and talk to Elon Musk and go work for Tesla or put things in space maybe. And so we lose a lot of people. And we have to replace some 27,000 a year, based on retirements and stuff. And so it's an interesting place to be right now in this industry, competing for resources. So ISP, kind of put this idea together, Tony Moreira is, you know, at the school, recruited me into this dialogue. And then they had a number of topics that they wanted to fill in. So he said, Darren, would you be able to do the cell and gene therapy class? I said, well, let's be clear. I'm not a professor. But I'm delighted to help out in this regard. And it's turned out to be really quite enjoyable to work with students. And to help them through all these topics. And cell gene therapies for your audience are really just the newest cutting edge of biotech, right? We started in an age with synthetic chemistry, everybody knows what an aspirin is, that moved on to regular monoclonal antibodies and biotech products that were significantly more complicated to make, but went to more directed parts of the body. And now, with 7000 genetic disorders affecting over 100 million people worldwide, we have just so many shots on goal with these genetic type directed therapies. And so that opens up the world of cell and gene therapies. Cell therapies are typically more on the leukemia side of the game, blood issues and things like that. The gene therapies are directed right to the organs where the gene is expressed and where certain things can happen. As you've read, there's been some pretty exciting treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, or floppy baby disease has been cured with a single shot. We've now taken advantage of this in bone marrow transplants to help people with sickle cell anemia. And they'll go on to live normal pain free lives. You'll see hemophilia coming out here shortly, you'll see diseases you wouldn't even recognize by their name, but they're small in volume coming up. So I think a lot of students start to think, okay, that might be the future of where things are going. And maybe I should look for classes on that. And lo and behold, we had a lot of folks that were working internships and things in pharma companies, but more on those early stage kinds of things, synthetic molecules and the biotech products. And so now some gene therapies are opening up. And so it's interesting to watch them come in, and we had a full class this year, and had a lot of fun teaching.

Dennise Cardona  4:24  

God, that's amazing. It's so wonderful to hear, like, what purposeful work, making those advances in the world helping people to live better lives. I mean, isn't that what a career path really is all about? Isn't that what we all embark on is to be able to have these career paths that make a difference in the lives of other people. And it sounds like students in STEM who are looking for that kind of a career path that will make those impacts, this is a really incredible field to get into. It's like you said this is the new way. This is what the focus is, and yeah, some great, great strides are being made in the medical world and in the wellness world. You know, you mentioned something to Darren about not being a professor. And one of the things that I would say UMBC prides itself on as far as our professional programs is that our instructors are people who are out there in the field, industry practitioners, who are out there doing the work every day and have their hands in what they are trying to teach the students. And so when students are learning from people like yourself, who are industry practitioners, they are, I would say that they gain a wealth of information, a wealth of knowledge, not just theoretical, but applied, because you are able to bring your experiences into that classroom. To me, that's so powerful, and it's such a great benefit for our graduate students. I'm a graduate student right now almost finished, I'll be finished in May. And that's one of the things I love about our programs is that we have people who are doing the work, and I'm learning from them. And so it's, I hear from our students all the time that that is a really great aspect of UMBC's professional programs.

Darren Dasburg  6:13  

It really was a big focus of this class. So the privilege that I had, being a practitioner in genomics and CRISPR, technology, specifically, I didn't have the breadth of all the technologies, and they varied quite a bit. And so I brought in 13 different speakers through the weeks to come in and talk to the students about their particular part of the organization, whether that be supply chain, whether it be QC, whether it be regulatory, and give the students an appreciation for what people do and how folks got to their career paths, right. So not everybody got there in a very linear way. Not everybody walked out of college with their STEM degree and said, Oh, I want to be in the pharmaceutical industry. We have people that were pharmacists, we have people that were in the chemical industry. We have folks from all different parts of the world who coalesced into the pharma world and showed their experience. I think the students really like hearing the stories of careers, and what went right and what did we learn from those decision points and stuff and what might help them but more than anything, everybody I bring into that class, I tell them, you have to be agreeable to being a LinkedIn connection for the students. And students, as you know, can be a little bit shy, they don't have a lot of experience. And so they're a little nervous to get out and talk to people. They're very comfortable mailing out emails, resumes and stuff. But I'm really encouraging them to get more face to face with people and shake a few hands and get to know a few people. And hopefully this will launch their careers as well.

Dennise Cardona  7:43  

Yeah, that's such an important point, that networking, being able to have that professional conversation in a professional setting, whether it be a classroom, or out there in a networking event or out in the field. That is a really valuable skill set that, well, maybe in this day of technology, it's not really gained by a lot of people, if they are just behind their computer screens and sending out emails and not really interacting with people out in the field. People who have a wealth of knowledge, who can help them to see the world in a better way or through a different lens that they are really unable to capture just via technology, say. There's something to be said about face to face in person shaking someone's hand or, you know, elbowing them in this day and age, whatever they're comfortable with. That's really important. I know it's been pivotal in my career, working at UMBC. And then also just in my graduate program, interacting with people out there in the field really helps. So what I want to know is and I think that people listening would be really interested to hear as well. you mentioned the career paths of these people that you bring in. Can you tell us your career path that led you here to UMBC to teach this course? Like what have you done professionally that has led you to this? 

Darren Dasburg  8:59  

I've had less gray hair? I'm hoping you have a lot of tape because it will take so I did go to engineering school, Colorado State University. And to a question that's often asked in these sorts of situations, what was the best decision in your life, I was one of those floundering high school kids who said I want to fly airplanes or something one day per career, and my parents said, you're really good with technical things. You should think about engineering school because you could still fly airplanes and do things with an engineering degree. So I applied and was quite surprised to get in and went out to Colorado State University and studied engineering for four years and then came back to work in the power industry of all places, right? When I got out of school in 1981, there wasn't a pharmaceutical industry. It was really you build power plants. Yeah, you might work in nuclear bombs if you were of that nature. And you could also go into the oil production world when being offshore oil rigs and stuff and so I looked at all those careers and picked the power plant route and came to Research Triangle Park in 82 to find that this was a very fast growing area. And so much like Boston or the Washington corridor or San Francisco, San Diego RTP was transforming. And these pharmaceutical companies were starting to come to town and Glaxo was one of those. And after eight years in a nuclear power plant as a senior reactor engineer, I said, wow, these are kind of pretty cool jobs. And so I talked to some people up there, made the switch over to Glaxo and went into the construction of some of their new facilities, and working more on the technical ops side of the game, which is really what I'm teaching tech ops. So from that, I spent 13 years in Glaxo and we went through a number of mergers too. And so we became Glaxo Welcome after we bought Burroughs Wellcome, and we became GlaxoSmithKline, after we merged with SmithKline. And in 2003, I had the opportunity to leave as a vice president Corporate Engineering. We were building things all over the world. And I went out to start my own business in consulting. I wanted to learn about biotech, because we were all in synthetic chemistry, this simple kind of stuff to make. And there wasn't a lot of interest in going into biotech by Glaxo at that time. They do a lot more of it today. And so in consulting, I could work with all the companies. And I did. I went out and worked with lots and lots of companies and learned the large molecule size of those, right? So here, we were making molecules at Glaxo that were on the order of 30 atoms or less, and now we're going to make something on the order of 150,000. It was huge, so much more, much more complicated. And it involved living cells, right. So we would use these Chinese hamster ovary cells to help grow these things. I spent six years in consulting and then a company, MedImmune, where Mark Schenerman was, invited me in to put a deal together for them. And it was kind of funny, because I was recruited on the basis that I was the only extroverted engineer they knew. And they needed the cell capacity for one of their plants. And that was not something that anybody had really done. But I had a nice Rolodex and lots of contacts from consulting, went to work and we put a big deal together with a large company, everybody with no call Merck and save the plant that was in the MedImmune network that was really just desperately underused. And so that was really a great success story. They asked me to go on from that dealmaking kind of world, to the world of bio ventures where we were putting together these joint ventures with companies for biosimilars. In the course of my Glaxo years, I got an MBA on top of my engineering degree, and studied entrepreneurship so that I could be a little bit more nimble in these kinds of realms. We were doing tremendous amounts of contracts and stuff at Glaxo. And so I just needed to know a little bit more about business. And so that ended up being kind of my career path, when it was said and done. Went to Korea, went to Japan, we put some joint ventures together with several big companies, biosimilars, which are the equivalent of a generic in the biotech products, right? If you've taken generic drugs about similars, what you'll see in the future for these, and those were exciting, lots of different languages, lots of travel, lots of frequent flier points, then I got a call to come back from Japan and work on buying a plant in Colorado, this one behind me, the folder facility needed to buy that from Amgen needed to get it up and running again, hire all the people for it. And so I did that and we put $108 million in the facility. When I walked into the facility, I was the only employee, me and the security guard, a big 186,000 square foot facility and nobody there. And that was interesting. And so we built the plant and hired 235 people, put a great team of people together, most of their names are on this picture right here. We took it to the point of making four batches. And the company realized, oops, we probably didn't need that plant, we don't have that much volume needed. I mean, there's just a huge difference when you're looking at a product that could be $10 billion, or $1 billion. And so they were optimistic and wanted to go out to the brass ring, and it was just a bit more than they needed. So that allowed me to come back to the corporate office, do some stuff in the Strategy Office for what was now AstraZeneca MedImmune had been bought by AstraZeneca. And, again, a big company kind of place to be again. I was really enjoying the small MedImmune company of 3500 people. Now we are 60 some odd thousand again, and big companies, I think are great places for people to grow up. But it was not my future. And so I wanted to get into cell and gene therapies to stay on the cutting edge. Everybody at that time didn't want to hear about some gene therapies because they didn't understand it. And so I said, Well, let me get out of the company in January 2019. And I'll go see what I can put together. And if you read the newspapers just two weeks ago, they did buy a cell and gene therapy company so they're finally getting into that. We'll see. And I got into the CRISPR world through some entrepreneurial startups out of North Carolina State University here in Research Triangle Park. CRISPR is genome editing, think of it as the code of your body. If you're an IT person or something, imagine that we can go in now and edit the code. And or even just knock out certain pieces of it so that it doesn't cause you issues and stuff. And the CRISPR identities were startups in agroforestry, and one in human conditions. And so we took the agroforestry, one to deal with one of the customers, then I spent my time full time over on the CRISPR biotechnology side, which we took to another merger with a woman's health company, out of New York, just this past September, called in psyllium. And then I was joining the board of directors for a medical device company, and I'm still on today. And so as you can see, the entrepreneurial world sort of took my hair and my sails, if you will, enjoying that since 2019. So it's a bit of a circuitous career path, but I have seen lots of stuff as a result of it. And that's where I think it really helps the students to see that it's just not like one guy who has been in a job his whole career, trying to explain all the other parts. I've worked in a lot of these parts, so that I can tell them how it works and give them some advice. And that's what they do in the class: they put a case presentation together, build a pharmaceutical company, and have to put all the pieces together in the TechOps and find an indication that they can cure and take care of people with.

Dennise Cardona  16:39  

It's so intrapreneurial it sounds like and to me that one of the great benefits I'm hearing for somebody entering that field is it's very dynamic. It's constantly changing. And there's so many opportunities, there's so many different pathways that you can take your, you're definitely showing that, that you can take so many different pathways. So even if, you know, a lot of times people are afraid to get kind of narrowed or tunneled into a particular career path with no other options. Now they're stuck in that career path. And it sounds like there's so many different ways that you can use this kind of education, this kind of experience. You mentioned agroforestry. Am I saying that correctly? What is that all about? I'm just curious.

Darren Dasburg  17:21  

Well, yeah, nutshell, you know, because you use things like toilet paper, maybe diapers and stuff like that, that there's a tremendous amount of paper products in this world, paper towels, they come from trees. And the first thing that happens to a tree in a paper mill is it has to be ground up. Now I want you to just think about taking 1.2 million tons of trees and putting them in some kind of a grinder. And imagine how much energy you have to exert to make all those trees grind up. The second thing you're going to do is put them in an acid bath, and try to liberate the fibers out of them. And it might take more acid if the fibers are deeply entrenched in the tree. Well, the genetic variation of trees is really quite significant. Trees are about 20 times more complicated than human beings believe it or not? They live outside, they have to deal with the weather, they have drought, they have all sorts of things to consider, bugs that we don't have to deal with. And they are tremendously variable in their nature, but it takes them sometimes 1000s of years to use that genetic variation to, to their benefit. Well, we have a lot of data. And we understand that now. And so we can go in and knock out a couple of traits and trees. Eucalyptus trees are used for paper mostly. And those couple of traits include lignin levels for the hardness of the tree, it has to G ratios or sugar kind of ratios. And, and if you change those one lower one higher than that makes the tree more amenable to those first two steps of a paper mill. And I know that sounds kind of small, but in a large paper mill with 1.2 million trees going through her tons of trees going through it, you're going to find that that's over $700 million worth of savings per year to them. And as you know, paper products are just tremendously thin paper thin margins, if you will. And so these three companies that make paper products are really desperate for any kind of savings they can get. So this is kind of a holy grail for them. And it's new and it's exciting. Still takes us 12 years to grow. Are you close lipped? It's true, but when it comes to being finished, it'll have different traits. It'll make it easier to go through the machine. And in other parts of agriculture. You've been enjoying this for years: corn, cotton, all sorts of products. If you get white mushrooms, they're white, because they're genetically altered. And they really, yeah, they normally would be brown. And that dairy products have been using this for quite a while. And so this isn't new to agriculture. It's just newer to the human body than it is now. But forestry was one of the big places to crack and it's been an exciting road there.

Dennise Cardona  20:05  

Wow, what would you say is your favorite part of the biotech field? Like what do you find the most exciting?

Darren Dasburg  20:12  

I think the discovery part is just unbelievable, right? When somebody just says, wow, look what we can do here. Is that right? And then they're like, let's put a hypothesis together. And let's test this and do a few more things and prove it. Because even they won't believe it. It's like, how would that couldn't be true, could it and for months, they'll keep working on this thing and get more and more excited about it. In the gradient Medical Group, I'm on the board for this fella. Dr. Mike Sano has an electroporation device, which won't make sense to most of your listeners. But it's an ability to mimic the electrical signaling in the human body. So we are just a giant biochemistry electrical system, right. And up and down our body, electrical systems are pumping signals to each other all the time. And if you could master that signal, you would know that there's one signal that tells a cancer cell to die. Lo and behold, wouldn't that be nice to know. And so he's created a device in this crazy signature, I mean, as an electrical signal, you'd never recognize it, and mimics perfectly the signal to these tumors that are on the surface of we've only done animal studies. But on the surface of the animal and the tumor, these are half dollar sized tumors just in a blade, they just pop like they look like the crater on the moon. And it doesn't affect any of the tissues in the area. Because it's very specific to what a tumor needs to hear electronically, right. And, of course, we'd like to get inside the human body and do some clinical trials there and do some things. But Mike's been working on this for 11 years. And in the early years, it's like that can't really be true, couldn't and now, he's just about ready to go into clinical trials. And the excitement for these guys, when they're doing this stuff is just unbelievable. I, from my business experience, kind of can sense what this could be worth to society. But the number of applications is really kind of amazing to think about. So even I'm probably only catching a fraction of it. And we'll see what happens maybe one day, you will go in and have more electric stimulus than anything else in your, in your therapy. We also know that that can open up cells so that new medicines can get in the cells better, which is another important part. So you'll hear this thing called electroporation or DNA vaccine that will be coming in time to and it's both an electrical stimulus and a shot at the same time.

Dennise Cardona  22:38  

Wow, that's really that's so amazing. This is a side note. But the So recently I've been reading about I have this book Earthing, and I'm reading about how the electrical quality electrons in our body and how these earthing pads are being barefoot out there on the earth on the soil can help recharge your electrical system, and in many ways that it helps to enhance healing. And I wonder if that's true or not, it's really, really exciting to think it could be. 

Darren Dasburg  23:09  

Many great books are written about electrical effects. And some of the changes that we've seen in human beings since just electricity has been born, right. And some of the, I guess, disturbances that they saw, in the early days of this when the streets of London, if you looked up overhead were nothing but wires, because they had an individual wire going all over the place. And so they felt like these fields were creating some kind of condition that they couldn't quite put their fingers on. But they also noticed other things happening in biology, like when they would set up for World War Two, these giant radio stations pumping signals to America from the shores of Ireland, all the insects downstream of that signal were dying off, because it could be the excitation vibrations or something was changing their life. And so what we can't see might not always be that good for us. And there's a reason why maybe 300 years ago, some of the things we deal with today didn't exist. And it could be that could be an answer to autism could be an answer to a lot of things that we're still searching for clues.

Dennise Cardona  24:16  

Yeah, absolutely. So let's talk about this course that you're teaching and what do you enjoy most about teaching it?

Darren Dasburg  24:24  

Well, there's a number of things so that the students who might want to sign up for it will know it's BTEC 691. It's a special topics course in cell and gene therapies. And when we get into that course, just by its title, we're certainly going to try to understand the environment of it and help the students understand what's changing in the industry. And how do they navigate? What's today 13 169 companies going after this, right, so we all think of pharmaceuticals for the elite 11 The big names AstraZeneca is Glaxo's, Pfizer's Mercs. But 1369 companies are going after these therapies. As students, they're going to be looking for jobs. And they have to learn how to pick winners for losers, right? Because not all of those companies are going to be successful, many of them are going to fail, run out of money, run out of interest, get their talent poached off to someplace else. And the students have to figure out who are the strongest machines out there with the brightest minds, and what technologies are going to work. So in the class, we're talking quite a bit about a variety of ailments that are in the radar of these companies right now. And the radar of these companies include a lot of very typical things that you've experienced or seen throughout, maybe your families or your friends and stuff including sickle cell anemia. It includes a lot of the genetic disorders that make people even ambulatory through life, or even shorten their lives. And so there's a lot of things to work on. But then there's some bigger ones that I think everybody's really excited about, like Alzheimer's, AIDS, things like that, that are more household names that we can get onto as well. And so in the class, we're teaching them about all the elements, how do you make these drugs? How do you take a drug like this out of research and bring it into tech ops and get it into a commercial setting. And so the students really enjoy that. And they've never seen products like this that are personalized sometimes. So if you were to get leukemia, you might go on a CAR T type regimen, we would go and take blood from you, we bring that blood back to the manufacturing plant, process it for certain antigens that we would grow and spool up and put back into your blood and only your blood. And then it has to meet you in a hospital some many miles away, right. And it can only work for you what works for your daughter or your husband or anybody else, it is only for you, it could kill these other people. And so when you go into the hospital, then that therapy is administered. And so it's a product of one, right? It's not something we can just get off the shelf and give to people in what they call a tal Agus treatments, more treatments are coming that are going to be more generically used, called allogeneic products. But stay tuned for that in time. But just there's so many things for students to learn here that I really enjoy helping share with them. And there's so many perspectives on how people like myself who have grown up in an industry are having to shift their role. Supply chain is totally different in these kinds of biotech products. Because we've never had a place where the customers are in the middle of the supply chain, like I just described. It's really quite diverse from what they're used to seeing or reading about.

Dennise Cardona  27:36  

I was gonna say, as a student in that program, if I were a student in that program, and then I took this course, I would imagine, I would feel like my whole world just opened up like there are these, this whole new part of the universe that I never knew existed. And all of a sudden, now I have all of these new options in front of me of ways that I can make a difference in the world. Do you experience that from the students in the class? Do you ever see those like, the eyes just get really big, like, oh, my gosh, I didn't know this was an opportunity out there.

Darren Dasburg  28:07  

It's true. And I have a lot of one on one discussions with the students who are trying to get their resumes tuned up or just get some insights on who they should talk to, and better define where they should start and stuff. And in one case, we'll keep her name anonymous, but she's a dental assistant today. He's got a biology degree, undergrad and all that. And she was thinking that that was helping people. But it's so routine, right? You go do dental work, it's the same thing over and over and over. She took this class, about halfway through, she set up a one on one meeting, and said, I really want to talk about this career, because I've been thinking about going to become a dentist. And I'm thinking that's not going to be the path that I want to do. So now I'm immediately thinking, Okay, well, there's some parents involved here that's probably been coaching her to be a dentist her whole life. But I'm just gonna lay it out and say, yes, there's a lot of opportunities here. And in fact, she is now going to pursue selling gene therapies as a career versus dentistry. And most of it's because of what you said earlier, she can see the much, much larger good that she can do in this regard. And she's really excited about it.

Dennise Cardona  29:13  

In terms of a student taking this particular course with you, how can they get the most out of it? Like how can they, at the end of this semester, leave there with more Kshs knowledge, skills and abilities than they had before entering?

Darren Dasburg  29:28  

The class gets 50% of its grade from a case study. And in the case study. I will divide the class up into teams of about four or five people. And as a team, they will pick an indication, some genetic disease, some condition that's being looked at out there in the field, and they will decide what their company is called and what roles they're going to have in the tech ops thing. And they will describe how they're going to bring this product across from research and development into manufacturing. calls and put it all together? Well, as you know that they all have to show up to the presentation. And they all have to take a piece of it. And they all have to have a role. And so when you get four or five people together that haven't worked together, then they've got to have a lot of social skills, a lot of communication skills, a little bit of leadership skills. And so in the course of the class, I kind of stitch in some soft skills that people can work on and bring to bear, including how to build trust. What's a good servant leader look like? What are competencies, things like that. And they have to try to demonstrate those things in the class. And I can see when the team gets up to talk, I can see if it's five individuals who just memorize something right? Or did they work as a team to put those together. And it's really exciting to watch them apply themselves in this form and fashion. And even to get a little bit nervous about it. And I offer lots of one on one opportunities to come in as teams and just talk to me about where they're going, what they're trying to put together and how they're interpreting it. And it's just fun to watch them come together. And they made some great presentations. I mean, really, if you watch some of these, you would say, Wow, that I would put money on this team. Let's get an entrepreneurial pitch deck together here.

Dennise Cardona  31:15  

Oh, I love that. That's great. You know, a lot of times graduate students and myself included, we sort of cringe when we know there's a group project that we have to do. But one thing that I've learned in my career as graduate students so far is, it's really vital to get those skills underway in a safe practice field, where graduates, that's what graduate school is to me. Because when you're out in the real world, you need to work within teams, especially in the field, like biotechnology we are, it's very entrepreneurial. And there's a lot of different thoughts coming from a lot of different directions. And if you have that ability to be able to lead, to be able to be a team player to be able to do your part and see kind of an overview, a broad overview of what is actually trying to be accomplished, and being able to pull from each other and work together as a cohesive unit, you're going to be one step above everybody else. And that's a really critical thing to learn in a graduate program.

Darren Dasburg  32:19  

I totally agree. And to somewhat this state of where we are in this world, you have to kind of take all the cynicism out of things, right. And so in an entrepreneurial startup, there's going to be mistakes made, there's going to be positions taken, or thoughts applied, that are going to get erased and have to be done again. And it's one thing to see it and speak up and say it is the best option. It's another thing to kind of bad mouth it and try to disable it, if you will, and then find out you gotta do it again later. And everybody's kind of sour about it. It's just much better to have good strong open communications. And when the decision is made, everybody's got to go that path, it might not feel comfortable sometimes. And we might all be looking like this is gonna hurt. And it might actually come true, but at least we were trying together. And that was the best option we could take. And so we go down that path. And I think that's really hard for technical people to recognize, because we especially engineers see it as an algorithm, right? It's always been a big algebraic equation that has an answer. We're all these other variables. We don't see that kind of stuff. And it's not until you get into entrepreneurial settings that you start to realize that not everybody sees your pitch deck the same way. Not everybody believes you need 10. Headcount thinks you might need three, not everybody thinks that this practice or procedure is necessary. Not everybody's that worried about this risk. It's really quite interesting to see sort of the qualitative parts of business come together and get formalized.

Dennise Cardona  33:52  

Yeah. And when somebody can learn to be able to just to be able to roll with the punches, so to speak, to be able to deal with those setbacks as disappointments, frustrations and a professional manner. And realize that those are really opportunities for future growth. That's when somebody can really, I think, bloom and be successful in whatever they do is taking that on and realizing that it's progress, not perfection that we're trying to gain. And as long as you keep your eye on progress, then you really can't fail.

Darren Dasburg  34:25  

I think we'll see a lot of successes in the future, thanks to open minded students like this coming into the field.

Dennise Cardona  34:33  

Yeah. Well, this has been a really great conversation about biotechnology about your course in cell and gene therapy. I always like to close our podcast episodes with a sort of a professional development tone, if you will. I love to ask a couple of questions from you. And one of them is what is your favorite book?

Darren Dasburg  34:54  

So anything that Walter Isaacson writes is a great book. And so he wrote the Biography of Einstein, Steve Jobs. He recently put out a book called codebreaker on genetics and CRISPR technologies, which is a really good read. The guy is a genius author. And he brings to life sort of not only the key innovations that are going on, but all the dynamics around it, and lots of lots of leadership traits. Steve Jobs, for example, was just a master of things needed to be perfect. And, he would frequently tell his team that that's a good start. Rather than just saying that we're gonna throw that away, he would just say that's a good start. And they would be looking at it like, well, this is a finished product that was done. And it's a good start, keep working on it. And they will keep things going. So you learn lots and stuff from his books. And they're just really well written.

Dennise Cardona  35:50  

Absolutely. And what is the greatest piece of advice that you have ever received?

Darren Dasburg  35:55  

I told it to you earlier, and hopefully, the audience won't forget. But I was once upon a time thinking about becoming a pilot for a living. And my parents were the ones that encouraged me to get an engineering degree because I could still be a pilot if I wanted to after that. And but the difference was two years of school and aeronautics or four years of engineering, both would get you into the airlines if you wanted to go there. And I didn't really want to do it after four years of college, because I had learned how to think and analyze problems, and I saw the career paths is really quite different. So I think my parents were quite good for that fateful conversation we had that was really predicated on the fact that I was working on cars. In those days, anybody could go work on the car, right? Mom would say the car's not working, I have to go out and try to fix it. And getting your hands dirty, touching a lot of things like that is a good experience to understand the realities of life and stuff. And so it just gave me the confidence to go after school, I have to say engineering school was very difficult. There were many days in my early years, I was like, Why did I pick this, but I stuck it out. And here I am today.

Dennise Cardona  37:04  

One last thing. Finish this phrase: success is?

Darren Dasburg  37:10  

It's a good one. I mean, there's a lot of pictures of that. And I've been asked about it before, but I really see it as a kind of success that is only visible through the people on a team, right? So we as managers, and leaders say, Oh, well, there's this metric, we're gonna hit this number, we're gonna be done by this date, we tend to define success. So, in my opinion, I know these are magnificent numbers, sometimes for companies and all that. But at the team level, the 1000s of things that they did to get that to come true. Is, is the combination of real success, they can see success much differently than we can and when we as leaders get invited into the party, so to speak, and get to experience it with them, then that's really a great day when that happens.

Dennise Cardona  38:03  

Well, thank you so much, Darren, for, you know, participating in this interview, being a part of it, helping to share some insights, and share some ideas about the biotech world and how great it is. And also giving us some insight into this course that you teach. It sounds like a really great course.

Darren Dasburg  38:21  

Well, I'm a little bit prejudiced, but I do think it's a great course. And I'm really pleased and proud of the way it came up this year. For its first effort. It'll be even better next semester. So thank you so much for having me.

Dennise Cardona  38:31  

It was a pleasure to meet you, too. Thanks so much, Darren. You're welcome. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of UMBC’s Mic'd Up podcast. We hope that you enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about our graduate programs in biotechnology at UMBC, be sure to visit the link in the description in the show notes.