The evening online master’s degree program in pharmaceutical bioengineering is designed for professionals worldwide who want to know how drugs are designed and brought to market. Learn how graduates have advanced their careers at companies like Genentech, Moderna and Juno/Bristol Myers Squibb.
When Tracey Stevens (PharBE ’12) learned of the UW PharBE program, she saw it as an opportunity to advance her career. “I was a scientist at Amgen striving to advance through the scientific tree,” she said. “Pursuing this advanced degree kind of springboarded me to the senior scientist level, which is really important because at that level you are managing projects and people.”
Tracey joined bluebird bio, a gene therapy company based in Massachusetts, in 2017 and is now director of site operations at bluebird’s Seattle research facility. Her science background and her experience as a scientist at Amgen helps her to better understand the scientist’s needs at bluebird. She is currently on the global return-to-work team, which is focused on maintaining business continuity while reopening safely after the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Seattle site continues to grow, Tracey is looking at innovative ways to optimize bluebird’s laboratory space so that it continues to be state-of-the-art flexible to allow for different types of research. “It’s interesting and incredibly rewarding to give the scientists everything they need to be successful,” she said.
Being one of the only women on the bluebird leadership team in Seattle, Tracey has a strong connection to all the women who work there. “My position shows them what they can do. This is a path you can take.” – Tracey Stevens
Being one of the only women on the bluebird leadership team in Seattle, Tracey has a strong connection to all the women who work there. “My position shows them what they can do,” she said. “This is a path you can take.” She enjoys mentoring and advocating for the junior staff.
When asked what her favorite cell is, Tracey shared she has always been fascinated by natural killer (NK) cells. “Their job is to kill tumor cells and cells infected by viruses or other microbes to control infection and prevent tissue damage,” she said. “NK cells play a critical role in recognizing cells infected with pathogens.”
Outside of work, one of Tracey’s passions is rescuing discarded orchids that other people have given up on. “I am very patient, and one of the plants I rescued bloomed 10 years after I started caring for it,” she said proudly.
Robert Stadelman graduated from the UW PharBE program in 2012 and is currently a senior scientist with REGENXBIO, a company focused on gene therapy in Rockville, Md. Prior to joining REGENXBIO in 2018, Robert worked as a scientist for Medimmune, a former research and development arm of AstraZeneca. He was an associate scientist with Amgen when he started in the PharBE program and moved to BioSolutions as an associate scientist II while in the program.
“I like the impact that gene therapy is having on people, and addressing unmet medical needs,” said Robert.
Before attending the PharBE program, Robert had always been on the early research and development (R&D) side of drug development. “I was familiar with phases one and two of R&D, but I didn’t have much exposure to phase three,” he shared. Given that, his favorite class was one taught by Robbie Wong, affiliate assistant professor of bioengineering and co-director of the PharBE master’s program, that focused on the clinical trials of drug development. Robert enjoyed learning about labeling and the Biological License Application.
When attending the PharBE program, Robert appreciated being able to attend classes while having a career and raising two small children. “Having a PharBE master’s degree helped me move up to the scientist level quicker. I may not have been able to advance as fast without it,” he said.
When he’s not working, Robert stays active with two teenagers. He enjoys being outdoors and runs and hikes the trails near his house.
“Having a PharBE master’s degree helped me move up to the scientist level quicker. I may not have been able to advance as fast without it” – Robert Stadelman
While attending the UW PharBE program, Sean Malone worked for Waisman Biomanufacturing as a process development & manufacturing specialist. Located in Madison, Wis., Waisman Biomanufacturing focuses on bringing novel therapeutics into the clinic. In 2020, Sean graduated from the PharBE program and joined Catalent as a specialist I, manufacturing protein therapeutics. Catalent is a global company focused on drug delivery technologies and manufacturing solutions. Ten months later, Sean was promoted to a scientist III in the Technical Operations group at North Dakota-based Aldevron, which manufactures biologics. Working in the Madison, Wis. location, Sean focuses on process development for research-grade proteins and enzymes necessary for mRNA synthesis and production.
Sean is currently working on improving yield for specific in vitro transcription (IVT) enzymes for mRNA vaccines. “We have one that is particularly problematic, and we are working on increasing the yield,” Sean said. He enjoys the technical challenges as well as Aldevron’s support for his work and life outside of his job.
At the UW, Sean’s favorite PharBE class was process development taught by Doug Miller, affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering. “It allowed me to grow in that area, and that mattered a lot to me because it was the direction I wanted to go in my career,” Sean shared. “The PharBE master’s program allowed me to rapidly move up my career ladder into higher level positions when combined with my previous work experience.”
PharBE students learn about a lot of different cells and molecules while in the program. Sean likes the adeno-associated virus because “having worked with it, I find it fascinating,” he said. “It’s been the key to getting gene therapies out, FDA approved and into the market.”
“The PharBE master’s program allowed me to rapidly move up my career ladder into higher level positions when combined with my previous work experience.” – Sean Malone
Outside of work, Sean enjoys spending quality time with his fiancé and their two dogs, and thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, now spending time with family and friends.
When Kristen Fetchko was interviewing for a new job last summer, her UW Master’s in Pharmaceutical Bioengineering (PharBE) degree caught the attention of prospective employers.
“Companies seemed excited to learn that because I know the full process of drug development, I can ask the right questions and be efficient and effective in my role,” says Kristen, PharBE ’20.
She credits her degree with helping her land a new job with greater responsibilities. The UW PharBE program offered her a breadth and a depth of knowledge that she couldn’t have gotten through industry experience alone, she says. “As with many people early in their career, I was siloed into one small part of the process, without a true understanding of the process as a whole or how I really fit into it.”
Now Kristen works as a clinical study manager overseeing a clinical trial at New Jersey-based CytoSorbents, which develops technologies to purify blood. “The PharBE program is a modern, applicable, interesting and efficient approach to learning the ins and outs of drug development from start to finish,” she says.
“The courses were detailed, organized, efficient, and thought-provoking. Everything that I learned really is relevant, and there wasn’t a lot of fluff.” – Kristen Fetchko
Jeffrey Chu, who earned his PharBE degree in 2020, recently accepted a position with Horizon Therapeutics in San Francisco as manager of biologics technical development. After working for Genentech in San Francisco, where he characterized and qualified new molecules, Jeffrey is now focusing on formulation work and engaging with contract manufacturing organizations on tech transfer across different sites. He’s also helping build and standardize an analytical lab in south San Francisco.
“Most programs, at least for master’s, are very rare in terms of the breadth that the UW PharBE program offered, from clinical to commercial to process development,” Jeffrey says.
It was that breadth of learning and the process development course in particular that spurred him to enroll at UW, rather than in a similar online program at Johns Hopkins University, he says.
Jeffrey also felt UW was a high value program, especially for the tuition. “It’s very clinical focused but still extremely applicable to what I do, and it actually helped me understand where my interests are and where I want to go.”
As a technical development research associate, Jeffrey has a keen interest in process development, and now he says he understands how his role plays into the greater company and the industry. He hopes to be in a role where he can see that oversight between end-to-end and early-stage to late-stage projects and how they can progress to market.
“The takeaway here is if folks work in the pharmaceutical industry and they’re interested in the overall process, understanding clinical work and progressing in their career – it doesn’t even matter what department they work in – this is the program for them.”
“I came to the program looking for a transition,” says Mike Maldazys, PharBE ’18, now a team lead/project specialist in cell manufacturing at Juno Therapeutics, part of Bristol Myers Squibb, in the Seattle area. Working with cells and microscopes in academic labs, he felt “motivated but stuck.” He was curious about what happens after the discovery phase.
“The PharBE program will take you from being excited about cells, as I still am, to a whole new world,” Mike says. “It is like the first time looking through a microscope – one learns to see. Instead of cells, we learn to see the ins and outs of taking something to patients.”
A highlight of the program for Mike was the drug discovery and design course. “The course was essentially a history of the coolest, outside-the-box techniques that cell scientists have used to develop drugs,” he says. “The course was built for problem solvers; answers had many solutions and needed the best defenses.”
Mike has encouragement for anyone considering a move to the biotech arena: “If you love cell science, but feel funneled into research, this is the perfect program to open your perspective,” he says. He points to some of the opportunities in manufacturing beyond cell culture, ranging from warehousing to manufacturing design to quality assurance, to name a few. At the right company, he says, there are ways to channel creativity and passion for cell science into the manufacturing process, which he has grown to love. “If you want to work with a bunch of people connected by their passion for cells, medicine and patients, then biotech is a whole new world for you.”
“My job is one of the biggest things I gained from the program,” says Arisa Cale, a senior research associate at Arcturus Therapeutics in San Diego, who earned her PharBE degree in 2019. “It helped me to transition to what I was looking for, which is a job related to clinical trials.”
Once she started working after earning her bachelor’s degree, she realized she’d need more education to advance along her chosen path, and the UW PharBE program allowed her to continue working and attend school part time.
Arisa also appreciated the aspects of courses that provided biotechnical expertise and an overview of new trends.
“Every single day the scientific field is going to advance little by little, so keeping up with new techniques and new science was really useful,” she says.
Joyce Chan, PharBE ’19, is principal research associate at Boston-based Moderna Therapeutics, whose coronavirus vaccine received FDA approval for emergency use in mid-December, showing 94.1 percent effectiveness.
“The program definitely gave me a deeper understanding of drug development and pharmaceuticals, and has helped me better do my job,” Joyce says.
She didn’t know what to expect from an online program at the time, and she preferred UW’s over a Harvard Medical school course she took more recently, which was all prerecorded. “I was very happy with the whole program,” Joyce says. “I got a lot of face-to-face time with the professors and other students, and because of the small size, I felt that I got a lot more interaction out of it even than undergrad programs that are in-person.”
Details about the program and answers to frequently asked questions are available on the UW PharBE website.