Anna Hickerson podcast

#156—Dr. Joel West on the Master of Business and Science and the New Online Certificate in Bioscience Management Program

The Certificate in Bioscience Management (CBM) of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) was recently approved for online delivery by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). This change will take effect in Fall 2023.

The CBM is a one-year program that allows PhD students and postdoctoral fellows with science backgrounds to acquire the business, management, and networking skills needed to transition into the life sciences industries successfully. Such training prepares students to take on managerial positions within companies and participate in entrepreneurial ventures to commercialize technologies developed in their labs. 

Many students who participate in the certificate program are PhD students or postdocs at the City of Hope in Duarte.

“The commute between the locations can be problematic,” said Dr. Megan Prosser, Dean of KGI’s Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences. “Having the online modality will make the certificate program accessible to more of these students. Additionally, it will become more accessible to working professionals who are moving forward in a different trajectory.”

The goals and curriculum of the CBM program build upon those of KGI’s flagship Master of Business and Science (MBS) program. However, the certificate can be completed in one year of part-time study and targets those with a graduate science degree. At the same time, the MBS is a two-year, full-time master’s for those who recently completed a bachelor’s.

Thus, the CBM program focuses exclusively on the business side of the life sciences, combining traditional topics such as competitive strategy and marketing with specialized issues such as the role of regulation and medical reimbursement in determining the viability of life science market opportunities. The courses in the program are Introduction to Bioscience Industries, Financial Accounting, Corporate Finance, and Competitive Strategy.

Introduction to Bioscience Industries, taught by Dr. Steven Casper, has been offered to KGI students for nearly 20 years. It is an orientation for students who have never taken a business class and need to know how business operates in the life science industries.

“Graduate business programs have certain norms for Socratic dialogue and case-based discussion and analysis,” said Dr. Joel West, Director of KGI’s MBS and CBM programs and Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “This course introduces business and the industries where our CBM students hope to work.”

Thus, Introduction to Bioscience Industries provides a holistic view of how business and the life sciences intersect. 

“For example, if a technology is being developed in the lab, how does that technology get licensed to a company, and how does a company garner the resources necessary to bring that product to market?” West asked. “Students learn to evaluate particular decisions, such as whether to pursue a specific market or manufacture a product yourself or contract with others. These decisions tend to be interdisciplinary, requiring the ability to integrate various disciplines and perspectives.”

Competitive Strategy focuses on the major players in the life science industries, including the top 10 pharmaceutical companies and medical devices and diagnostics companies.

“In a traditional business school, a student doesn’t know if he or she is going to work in retail, entertainment, manufacturing, or pharmaceuticals,” West said. “So they get a general, industry-agnostic business degree. At KGI, on the other hand, we know our students intend to work in the life sciences, so the preparation we provide caters to these careers.”

Students learn the dynamics of the different types of life science companies—including traditional pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, and diagnostics—and the segments within these industries. West said,

“Because of this, we find that our students are better prepared to hit the ground running at these companies than those who complete a more generic business program.”

At the same time, the CBM caters to those with a strong science background who want to understand the business side of science better—even if they don’t have entrepreneurial ambitions.

“Even if their job is pure science, they’re still not completely insulated from the business constraints of how the science decisions are made,” West said. “They’re going to discuss the marketing, regulatory, or financial constraints on their work.”

For example, a scientist may be screening molecules that a large outside company is acquiring. 

“They have the strong science necessary to make those decisions, but they need to understand how to better talk to the business people involved in that IP acquisition effort,” West said. “Those with a PhD are highly valued in the industry. But if a firm has to choose between somebody who understands business and somebody who doesn’t, then with all else being equal, they will prefer the person who speaks the language of the business and understands how their role is adding value to the company.”

This is the first of a series of online programs KGI expects to offer in business and regulatory affairs.

Those interested in learning more about the CBM or possible future offerings should contact Dean Prosser at


In this episode of the KGI podcast, Dr. Joel West, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship and program director for KGI’s Master of Business and Science program, talks about his background, the MBS and CBM program, and the industry’s future.