New Career Path Emerges in Immuno-Biotechnology

Published: Sep 15, 2017

New Career Path Emerges in Immuno-Biotechnology September 14, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Immunology is big these days, helped along more than a little bit by the hot field of immuno-oncology (IO). IO is where the immune system is engineered and stimulated to attack specific cancer cells.

A recent example of IO came on August 30, 2017 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Switzerland-based Novartis AG ’s CAR-T immuno-oncology product for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

What is perhaps not as well known is that the biopharma industry needs people with specialized training in immunology and immuno-biotechnology at all education levels for this hot field, but they can be hard to find.

Specialized Programs

Although there are plenty of programs at the undergraduate and graduate level in biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry, specific programs for biotechnology or programs that have hands-on practical training in immune biology are rarer. In July 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Wash., a $572,070 grant to fund courses and new materials related to immuno-biotechnology.

“The Puget Sound region is well-known as a biotechnology and biomedical research hub,” said Dina Kovarik, chair of the Biotechnology Lab Specialist program at Shoreline Community College, in a statement. “In recent years, local companies and research institutions have made great strides in developing and adapting the power of the immune system to fight diseases like cancer and autoimmunity. This grant will make it possible to train the technicians needed to enter and succeed in this growing field of immuno-biotechnology.”

Noting that between 2007 and 2014, the demand for life science technicians in the Puget Sound region grew 9 percent, the college developed the new program. An article in the Seattle Times says, “Careers in immuno-biotechnology require practical, hands-on training in cutting-edge techniques, technologies and equipment. This includes preparation for work in molecular biology, recombinant DNA, immunology, protein purification and tissue culture, and other technical fields. It’s also important to establish a firm foundation in a variety of math and science disciplines including algebra, statistics, chemistry, biology and computer science.”

Jenna Gravely, an Evaluation Project Manager, HIV Vaccine Trials Network at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center told the Seattle Times, “I was hired at a biotech company before I even graduated from the Shoreline Community College biotech program, something I had been trying unsuccessfully to do with just my microbiology degree for over five years.”

The Seattle Times claims that Shoreline Community College is presently the only two-year Washington community or technical college offering a biotechnology program. It is developing five new courses that includes Case Studies in Drug Development, Cancer Biology, Quality Systems, and Advanced Bioinformatics as elective courses.

Biotechnology Degree Programs

To be sure, Shoreline isn’t the only program in the U.S. offering degrees in biotechnology, although it’s likely one of a relatively small number with biotechnology-focused, two-year programs. BiotechnologyDegrees.org lists 182 biotechnology schools, 63 of them offering Associates Degree, 91 offering Bachelor’s Degrees, 58 Master’s Degrees and 10 Doctoral programs. Programs are offered at well-known schools such as Yale University, Johns Hopkins University (which also has an Online Master of Science in Biotechnology), Arizona State University, University of California Davis, Eastern Michigan University and many others.

The website also indicates that the average salary for a Biology Technician is $39,750 per year and is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022. Biochemist/Biophysicist jobs have an average salary of $80,480 per year and are projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Associate of Science Biotechnology programs are offered at Northwestern University, Keiser University, Madison Area Technical College, over 60 total. Starting salaries for biotechnicians or biotechnology assistants/technicians start slightly under $40,000 pear year.

Job Examples

Job examples include:

1. Scientist: Immunology at Regulus Therapeutics in San Diego, Calif.

This position calls for a PhD in biology-related field, such as cell biology or immunology with a minimum of two years’ post-doctorate work.

2. Immunology Post-Doctoral Research Scientist for Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis.

Obviously calling for a PhD, this person will join the company’s immunology team to investigate mechanisms of autoimmune diseases.

3. Research Associate, Immunology at Seattle Genetics in Bothel, Wash.

This position calls for a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science in immunology, cell or molecular biology and two or more years of laboratory experience. The position will support the company’s immuno-oncology programs.

4. SRA Cancer Immunology for CytomX Therapeutics in South San Francisco.

Calling for a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and a minimum of five years of industry experience in immunology or cancer immunology, position will develop and implement complex cellular assays aimed mostly at measuring the response of human and mouse T-cells.

5. Clinical Trial Specialist for George Clinical in Memphis, Tenn.

This position calls for an Associate’s Degree or four years of related experience and training. The candidate will assist in coordinating the feasibility process for proposed and assigned clinical trials.

6. Senior Instrument Technician for Amgen in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Calling for an Associate’s Degree and four years of instrumentation/calibration experience, or a high school diploma and six years of experience, this candidate will be responsible for performing calibration, repair, installation, troubleshooting and documentation of instruments used on process control systems.

As the Seattle Times writes, “Success in an ever-evolving field like biotechnology requires attention to professional growth and education. Learning the basics and landing a job is just the first step. It also requires staying up-to-date by subscribing to industry publications, becoming active in industry associations and developing a network of colleagues.”

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