william hou

Bioprocessing Summer Program Educates Students for Future Careers in Industry

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Bioprocessing Summer Undergraduate Internship Training and Education (BSUITE) program introduces undergraduates to the world of bioprocessing and bioengineering, culminating in a team-based project. During this summer’s immersive two-week program, students learned about the regulatory environment and career options within biomanufacturing, including process development, production support, facility engineering, quality oversight, and regulatory positions.

William Hou, a rising senior and Bioengineering major at UC Berkeley, said that he applied to the BSUITE program to learn more about the industry of bioengineering and gain more practical experience.

“I wanted to see how biologics and drugs are produced for a large market,” Hou said.

“In the KGI program, I learned about upstream and downstream processing along with how the final product is labeled and shipped. I finally became the chef instead of just studying the recipe.”

This year’s team project involved evaluating the process development, manufacturing, and regulatory aspects of a novel COVID-19 treatment or vaccine that is currently under clinical trials and potentially being approved to treat the mass patient population. Hou’s team focused on stem cell therapy.

“We discovered that stem cell therapy is extremely expensive,” Hou said. “One healthy donor can only provide this kind of therapy for at most five patients, and then the cells cannot be stored more than two months, even though it is under negative 135 degrees Celsius.”

After reviewing the literature, they did discover that this type of therapy could still be beneficial for certain types of cancers. Hou found that it was helpful being in a group with a diverse skill set, where some students could focus strictly on the business side or on navigating FDA regulations while others could concentrate on the technicalities.

“Back at Berkeley, everyone in our groups specialized in a niche of tissue engineering, and we were more like-minded,” Hou said. “When a challenge occurred, we would get stuck, and it would usually take a while to find a solution.”

One of the highlights for Hou was hearing about George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor in Bioprocessing and Director, Amgen Bioprocessing Center Sue Behrens experience with Merck & Co. Of the guest speakers, he particularly enjoyed a talk on how to establish your own factory to produce a biologic or pharmaceutical as well as a speaker from Gilead Sciences who described how to transfer a drug from the production site to each individual hospital to reach the patient in a timely fashion.

“In terms of helping out people in need, the speech really got me to expand my horizons and gave me a bit of insight into the supply chain side of the equation,” Hou said.

Even though the BSUITE program was held online this summer due to COVID-19, Hou still felt that he was able to bond with other participants and that KGI provided a successful model for how to create a coherent online environment.

“I already feel like I’m part of the KGI family,” Hou said. “By the end of the sessions, people were more likely to turn on their cameras and speak up. We’re so far apart, yet we found so many new things in common. With KGI’s support, we came up with a potential solution to scale up stem cell therapy.”

Hou’s long-term career goal is to potentially work in research and development to find treatments for cancers or diabetes.

“I am really thankful that KGI accepted my application, and I think it was a very productive and informative way to spend my summer,” Hou said.