Discussion Central

1.  What careers are available for ChemEs in Biotech?

SENIOR MEMBER
Posted 9 days ago
When most people think of a career in biotech, they think of a scientist in a white coat developing drugs in a lab. Biotechnology seems like it would offer many more career opportunities for ChemEs than just lab work.

What are the types of biotech jobs available to ChemEs?

What advice would you give to a ChemE looking to pursue one of those jobs?

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Loraine Kasprzak MBA
Managing Director
Advantage Marketing Consulting Services
Westfield NJ
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2.  RE: What careers are available for ChemEs in Biotech?

SENIOR MEMBER
Posted 8 days ago
There are many careers available to Chem-Es in biotech

1. Computational biology and pathway engineering
2. Fermenter process development, design and scale-up
3. Downstream purification process development, scale-up and engineering
4. Product design and development

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Benjamin Adelstein PE
Director of Process Development
Verdezyne Inc.
Carlsbad CA
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3.  RE: What careers are available for ChemEs in Biotech?

SENIOR MEMBER
Posted 8 days ago
Thanks Benjamin. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in biotech? For instance, what skills should they have or seek to develop?

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Loraine Kasprzak MBA
Managing Director
Advantage Marketing Consulting Services
Westfield NJ
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4.  RE: What careers are available for ChemEs in Biotech?

FELLOW
Posted 8 days ago
Loraine,

    The biotech industry is no different from other chemical/petrochemical companies (and even lots of pharmaceutical processes) in many respects, other than the first step(s) in a manufacturing process is accomplished by living cells. So, this suggests, e.g.,  that a chemical engineering student might want to take a couple of courses in biology / microbiology to better prepare him/her to develop/support processes for which one or more steps involve living organisms.
   The large biotech/pharmaceutical company I spent my career with employed about 1000 engineers, with about 90% of these being chemical engineers.  So lots of opportunities for chemical engineers exist, most being the same as would exist in development or support of any chemical process.
   To expand a little, an early step in a bioprocess usually involves some type of fermentor/bioreactor.  These are highly specialized chemical reactors in that what goes on in them usually must be done in a sterile environment and often involves a simultaneous 3 phase operation (gas, liquid, and suspended solids). Obtaining on-line analytical measurements of broth composition is often a challenge, and mixing is also a challenge as sufficient oxygen must be provided to cells without causing excessive shear to the cells.  These are all challenges for which chemical engineers are well suited to work on.  Once the process step involving a bioreactor is completed, the resulting broth often contains product (or the precursor to the product) along with lots of cellular debris and other soluble chemicals. Thus a huge challenge exists in separating the desired product from all the other stuff, and chemical engineers are good with separations processes. An educational need here is that much separation and purification work in the biotech industries is done with chromatography columns (which usually are not covered in undergraduate separations courses) vs. things like classical extraction and distillation columns-  so process engineers in the biotech industries will undoubtedly need to learn about chromatography unit operations  (which are not unlike water softeners that exist in many people's homes).  Another educational need, usually accomplished with on-the-job training, is to learn all the required c-GMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) regulations required by the FDA. While most c-GMPs are best practices for any chemical process, they are required and must be adhered to for any process making drugs for human use.
   Regarding the perception that a bioprocess is largely worked on by a white coated scientist, this is largely true regarding the discovery and initial development of a new product (i.e., in the "research" wing of a company's R & D department). However, once a promising new drug candidate comes out of "research", the role of chemical engineers increases dramatically, i.e., to take what the scientists have utilized in making small quantities of the product - and then design the manufacturing process for use in pilot plants and then scale it up for manufacturing plants in a way that is profitable to the company, is safe and reliable, and which complies with all environmental and cGMP regulations. Scaling up is usually a challenge. E.g., the shear and oxygen transfer characteristics of a production size fermentor are quite different than whatever the research scientist used in producing small quantities of product. Scientists will normally still be involved in process development (e.g., as opportunities to clone more product generating genes in cells still exists - which will increase yield.  Also, media composition still needs to be optimized).  Regardless, much of the work in process development shifts to that which is often best accomplished by chemical/biochemical engineers

Hope this helps.

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Joseph Alford
Zionsville IN
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5.  RE: What careers are available for ChemEs in Biotech?

SENIOR MEMBER
Posted 5 days ago
Thanks Joseph. You offer great insights, as always.

Loraine

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Loraine Kasprzak MBA
Managing Director
Advantage Marketing Consulting Services
Westfield NJ
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