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BSUITE Helps Gabriel Valdez Land a Full-Time Position in the Bioprocessing Industry

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Bioprocessing Summer Undergraduate Internship Training and Education (BSUITE) program provides students with valuable real-world experience in bioprocessing which can sometimes directly lead to industry positions. This was the case for Gabriel Valdez, who participated in BSUITE in the summer of 2020 and has since landed a full-time Process Engineering job at Vertex Pharmaceutical in Boston.

After receiving his bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering, Valdez enrolled in BSUITE to gain more experience in his field and accelerate his career. His undergraduate program gave a broad overview of different sciences, while BSUITE provided a welcome deep-dive into the biopharmaceutical industry specifically.

During this online program, Valdez and the other participants learned about technical and regulatory considerations for biopharmaceutical production, including biotechnology and cell line engineering, cell growth, product purification, viral controls, and quality systems.

BSUITE culminates in a team project where teams evaluate different treatment options for a specific condition. Valdez’s team focused on stem cell therapy, which directly translates into the work he is doing now for Vertex.

“The BSUITE program prepares you for working in a lab and designing different experiments,” Valdez said.

This is precisely the type of hands-on work Valdez performs for Vertex. He helps the company optimize the process workflow for their autologous gene-edited hematopoietic stem cell therapy for sickle cell disease. This includes conducting experiments to determine which machinery and methodologies work best to create a sterile and smooth workflow for their cell and gene therapy.

“We give this information to the large-scale manufacturers, and they’ll tweak the way they’re currently making the therapy,” Valdez said. “So we’re sort of the last line of defense before the therapy gets multiplied in large-scale manufacturing sites.”

Valdez feels confident in his current position as a result of his experience in BSUITE. It helped him master the technical skills, and he also learned how to work effectively with people he had never met before, completing a significant project in two weeks.

“One of the best benefits I got out of the program was making connections with new people around the world.”

“I’m still in contact with many of the people from the program. I just graduated and am working full-time, but other people in the program are still in school. And if they need help finding a job moving forward, I could help them,” Valdez said.

Additionally, he learned a lot about upstream versus downstream processes, different technologies, and the various steps that go into the pipeline of bringing a therapy to market, from production to regulation. The program featured seminars from several prominent leaders in the industry, including the U.S. Surgeon General.

Along with seminars from industry leaders, the general schedule for BSUITE consisted of lectures from KGI Bioprocessing professors. Students would then go into breakout rooms, where they’d work on team projects. Professors would occasionally drop by to provide feedback on the students’ progress.

“We definitely felt that we were working on the project independently, but we had guidance as well,” Valdez said. “So it was a nice balance of feeling accomplished about what we did on our own but receiving plenty of support from the professors along the way.”

This fall, Valdez will be attending a master’s program part-time while continuing to work for Vertex.

“Hopefully this way, I’ll be able to lead a research team and have more of an impact,” Valdez said. “My master’s program specializes in the exact courses that I would need for my specific position, so in a way it’s the perfect pairing.”

Dr. Sue Behrens, George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor in Bioprocessing and Amgen Bioprocessing Center Director, acknowledges how exciting it is to see BSUITE students make such rapid progress in their careers or educational journey.

“It is rewarding to see how much BSUITE students can learn in such a short time,” Behrens said. “The final projects they produce are detailed and indicate the team’s understanding of new topics. We are delighted that students can take learnings from BSUITE to industry positions or entry to KGI graduate programs such as the Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing.”