Whether it is serving in the United States Army or working on breakthrough cancer therapies, Robb Poier (PharBE ‘23) has always been passionate about helping people and doing good in the world.

Serving in the Army

Robb in the army

Robb always knew that he wanted to be on the frontlines of saving lives and helping people. Prior to entering the biotech industry, he served for 6 years in the U.S. Army as a watercraft-based firefighter. He would often request to be placed on missions focused on providing relief for regions impacted by war or natural disasters. Robb’s initial goal was to become a doctor, but after shadowing in clinical settings, he realized that he preferred working in the lab over working directly with patients.

After finishing his tenure in the army, Robb enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, graduating in 2018 with his Bachelor of Science in Biology. Following graduation he worked for several companies, including AGC Biologics and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).

Fond memories of PharBE

We talk about how to make goals for your career. It’s very well-tailored to what I do in biotech.

Robb PharBe GraduateInspired by his work at BMS and the COVID-19 lockdowns, Robb enrolled in the online Master of Pharmaceutical Bioengineering (PharBE) program in 2021.

When asked what course he most fondly remembered, Robb identified the capstone experience, where students are guided through creating a life-cycle management plan for a drug over the course of its patent. This includes clinical trial design, FDA and Institutional Review Boards, ethics, consents, safety, and quality considerations. Robb also recalls how grounded in the realities of the biomedical industry his PharBE coursework was: “We talk about how to make goals for your career. It’s very well-tailored to what I do in biotech,” Rob says.

Cell therapies and the future of cancer treatment

Robb is currently working on autologous cell therapies, where T-cells are taken from the patient and transected with Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CAR). This teaches the cells to detect and kill specific cancers. The modified CAR T-cells are then reintroduced in the patient, helping to enhance the body’s ability to fight off cancer cells. Robb notes that different forms of CAR T-cell therapies are at different stages of the FDA-approval process, but he is hopeful that this approach will eventually eclipse chemotherapy as a frontline treatment for many different forms of cancer.

Robb is passionate about cell therapy, and he hopes to continue working to revolutionize cancer treatment. In addition to his current work manufacturing CAR T-cells, he is also interested in exploring process development and new drug approval.

This past year, Robb was selected to participate in BMS’s Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer bike ride. BMS employees volunteer their time and effort each year to train, fundraise and participate in a cross-country bike ride in support of the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Making the most of every minute

In his personal life, Robb believes it is important to make the most of his time. He met his wife when they were both in high school. They started dating after he joined the army, and she has been a major source of love and support throughout his education and career in biotech. They were excited to welcome a daughter during Robb’s time in the PharBE program.

Now that I’m out of school, if I’m going to keep being a life-long learner, I have to make my own lesson plans.

When asked for a piece of advice he would give to his daughter, Robb responded, “Don’t stay still. You only get so much time, and you will never regret doing more.” As a part of his dedication to life-long learning, Robb has taken up a number of unique hobbies, ranging from repairing old bikes to teaching himself French to brewing his own beer. “Now that I’m out of school, if I’m going to keep being a life-long learner, I have to make my own lesson plans.”

Robb and Family
Most of Robb’s hobbies began with a spark of interest. What inspired him to pursue bioengineering over traditional medicine was a passion for learning how things work and deconstructing those processes. His various experiments have yielded some fun results, including making blueberry mead in honor of one of his wife’s favorite fruits. However, he has also learned what he doesn’t enjoy: namely, woodworking and playing musical instruments.

As his daughter gets older, Robb is excited to begin including her in his passion projects. The family currently enjoys foraging for mushrooms together, and Robb has taught his dog, William “Wally” Wallace, to find chanterelles.