Alumni Profile: Thomas DiRocco
Thomas DiRocco (MBS '09) didn't want to enter into a traditional PhD or master's program when he graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in biology. He thought about pharmacy school, or maybe even becoming an optometrist. And then, an admissions director from Keck Graduate Institute made what DiRocco describes as a "very interesting presentation" at Santa Clara and suddenly the young scientist found himself on a path that would lead to the bioprocessing program at KGI.
Today, DiRocco is a research assistant at Genentech where he assists in the process development of key biopharmaceutical products, including medications to help alleviate the effects of cancer, asthma and rhuemitoid arthritis. Genentech is at the forefront of the biotechnology industry, using human genetic information to develop novel medicines for many serious and life-threatening diseases.
In his job, DiRocco helps to bring important therapies to the market. "You don't just put it in a box and end up with a product," he said of the complex process.
"Someone has an idea and decides this is what we want to manufacture," he continued. "My job is to help to determine the costs of the materials and the product's effectiveness, to decide how much we're going to make and how long the process will take. We take products from a medium lab scale to supplying the world."
At KGI, DiRocco worked closely with Matthew Croughan, PhD, the George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor and director of the Amgen Bioprocessing Center. Di Rocco was the project manager for a year-long Genentech/KGI Team Masters Project.
"Dr. Croughan impressed upon me the high quality of work that's required in process development—you have to be correct 99.9% of the time. People are depending on what you are making—these are life-saving drugs for people who are very, very sick," said DiRocco.
Croughan had previously worked at Genentech, and DiRocco says Croughan was very influential in helping him choose a career path in bioprocessing.
In addition to his scientific pursuits, DiRocco also studied at the University of Florence in Italy for a semester to improve his Italian during his undergraduate education.
DiRocco encourages current KGI students to take advantage of all the opportunities to meet speakers and guests at the school. "They're a great resource," he said, because, "bioscience is a small world."