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.
Kristen Fetchko, PharBE ’20, says the degree helped her land a job with more responsibilities. Photo courtesy Kristen Fetchko.
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, PharBE ’20, at Genentech’s South San Francisco campus. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Chu.
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.”
Mike Maldazys, PharBE ’18, now works at Juno Therapeutics in Bothell, Wash. Photo courtesy Mike Maldazys.
“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.”
Arisa Cale, PharBE ’19, in San Diego. Photo courtesy Arisa Cale.
“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.
PharBE alumna Joyce Chan and her daughter at graduation on the UW campus in 2019. Photo courtesy Joyce Chan.
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.
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