Beyond Research Non-research careers in biomedical sciences

A career in biomedical sciences is not just limited to research. In fact, jobs in non-research areas far outnumber the available research positions. Senior managers from Lonza Biologics tell us more about these career possibilities.

By John Yip

Singapore has made significant progress in its biomedical industry in recent years. Manufacturing output grew to S$18 billion in 2005, and provided employment for 10,200 people, a new record for the industry.

Plans are in place to strengthen the industry’s ability to translate clinical discoveries into actual drugs for the global marketplace. This will require further expansion in the scope of research and manufacturing operations in Singapore.

As such, the recently announced joint venture between Lonza Biologics and Singapore’s Bio*One Capital to build a US$250 million large scale mammalian cell culture plant at Tuas Biomedical Park represents a significant milestone for the local industry.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new plant was held on 15 February this year. The facility will include up to four mammalian bioreactor trains, each with a fl exible capacity of 1,000 to 20,000 litres inclusive of their respective purifycation units, and is expected to provide employment for more than 300 people when completed in 2009. It will be Lonza’s second large-scale mammalian manufacturing plant, and Singapore’s first commercial-scale biopharmaceuticals manufacturing facility.

Lonza Biologics
Lonza Biologics, part of the Lonza Group based in Switzerland, specialises in microbial fermentation and mammalian cell culture starting from strain or cell line construction, through process development to manufacture for clinical or commercial supply.

It has been a leading participant of the global biotechnology industry since 1980. Lonza currently operates three 20,000 litre stirred bioreactors in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (USA) and Slough (UK). A fourth 20,000 litre bioreactor will be put on stream in 2006. Together with the announced project in Singapore, Lonza is well placed to keep up with the increasing number of biopharmaceuticals being launched globally, and it expects the business sector is to deliver strong growth in the years to come.

That growth also means more job opportunities for aspiring engineers. This year, Lonza has been actively seeking to place local undergraduates on training attachment programmes at either one of its manufacturing facilities in Portsmouth or Slough.

In fact, a few of Lonza’s senior managers came to Singapore in early April to interview more than 130 students from local universities who applied for the attachment programme. “I was personally very impressed by their background and their confidence levels. There were very few applicants we would reject outright,” says John McGrath, VP Global Operations (Mammalian).

A wide mix of talents needed
“We like dynamic people who are flexible and team-orientated,” says Ann Taylor, Head of Human Resources – LBP. Even though there are no firm plans at the moment, Lonza will be looking to hire people for its production, engineering, maintenance and validation operations by early next year. Potential employees need not necessarily have an academic background in engineering or chemicals, but they will need to demonstrate a wide mix of talents.

“In a company like Lonza, there will always be opportunities for internal movement into other departments, even across international borders,” says Ann. “These openings can be openly viewed at the company’s website ( — anyone within the company is free to apply for those positions.”

John is also keen to point out that a career in biomedical sciences is not limited to research and development alone. A lot of students have the mistaken perception that R&D is the only exciting area to work in. In truth though, manufacturing can turn out to be just as exciting and dynamic as research.

“Aspiring candidates need to be aware that research only makes up a small percentage of the available jobs at Lonza,” says John. “The career opportunities in the non-research areas are very broad and very diverse. We have jobs in manufacturing, quality assurance and regulatory affairs — there are more than 20+ career choices available. To think only of a career in research would very much limit your choices.”

Training and development
Besides its attachment programme, Lonza provides a wide range of internal and external training to support an employee’s career development.

Core training in cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) will be especially important. cGMP consist of guidelines, recommendations and agreements that are often derived from government regulations. Anyone involved in the planning, construction, validation and maintenance of modern pharmaceutical facilities will need to keep up with advances in technology, and be aware of how external regulation will affect biochemical production.

In this respect, both John and Ann are pleased to see that tertiary institutions in Singapore have begun to place a greater emphasis on practical training. “cGMP is a very good example,” says Ann. “It used not to be taught at universities. But now, they realise that students need to be taught about it before they get into the commercial world.”

“It used to be that students would have just done biology, microbiology or genetic engineering,” says John. “These are very specialized disciplines. In contrast, the graduates that are now coming out of Europe, the US and Singapore are taught enough about each area to be very adaptable.”

John further observes that most courses focused on biotechnology today include industrial placements to give students much needed hands-on experience. “These developments tie in very closely with the types of operations at Lonza.”

The future looks good
In closing, those who are interested in biomedical sciences should take note that there are definite signs that the industry is starting to mature. In other words, long-term career prospects in the industry are looking better than ever before, especially for fresh graduates.

“There has been a lot of media attention on new products, on the new class of drugs that are being brought to market. We’re starting to see a lot more entry-level graduates who’ve studied courses directly related to biotechnology all around the world,” says John. “The industry is growing, and is projected to grow into the next decade.”

Indeed, as long as they are willing to explore the full range of job opportunities available, the future looks good for capable young graduates in biomedical sciences.

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