Nurturing a new drug or device to market takes skill sets along a continuum of disciplines. Universities have responded to industry demands for scientists who have expertise with business, regulatory affairs, and high-tech drug discovery by designing new programs to teach these skills as well as advance careers.
"Product development, regulatory approval, and commercialization are all linked," says Cris McReynolds, vice president of business development at Affymetrix in Santa Clara, Calif. Companies want employees able to contribute along the entire spectrum-not simply work in their own vacuum. "Like many industries, we're trying to drive decision-making further down in the organization," he says.
To that end, educators have stepped in to offer programs to help researchers broaden their skills as well as their careers. San Jose State University's Master of Biotechnology (MBT) degree program integrates hands-on training in lab-based biotechnologies with MBA-level management and business courses. "The students, already comfortable with science, are sponges when they go into business classes," says Dave Bieber, MBT program director. Concentrations in quality control and regulatory affairs are in particularly high demand, notes Bieber.
MBT graduates are now working at big companies such as Genentech as well as smaller biotech companies. Amber Mortens, one of the first MBT graduates, says her MBT-required internship was her foot in industry's door. Having worked with Affymetrix's McReynolds during her internship, he offered her a permanent position upon graduation; she is now responsible for patent and technology licensing at the company.
Farther south in California, universities in San Diego's growing life science community are offering similar programs. The University of California, San Diego, was one of the first programs to respond to industry's increasing needs. UCSD's Extension division developed a number of professional and specialized certificate programs, now totaling more than 125 courses. By offering their programs anytime and anywhere, students can do them online asynchronously, in the traditional classroom, or during intensive short courses. The majority of participants in these programs are industry scientists seeking training for a new position or a raise in salary. In four years, roughly 5,000 students from more than 200 companies, including Amylin, Pfizer, and Gen-Probe, have connected with the program.