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WIB-Southern California: Young Women In Bio – Discovering Drug Development at Ferring Pharmaceuticals, July 28, 2020

Posted By Kristina Herbert, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Young Women In Bio-Southern California (YWIB-Southern California) was delighted to partner with Ferring Pharmaceuticals in San Diego to host  “Discovering Drug Development!” This program was specifically for the summer interns from Scripps Research Institute, who are uniquely taking part in virtual internships from the comfort of their homes all across the country.

20 students logged into Zoom, where they were greeted by the Chair of YWIB-Southern California, Kristina Herbert, Ph. D., who provided a brief introduction to YWIB. She said, “YWIB gives girls today the inspiration and support they need to become tomorrow’s leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” She emphasized that YWIB strives to provide education and hands-on experiences in STEM and share our passion for all scientific fields, making these activities and workshops available to all students, regardless of gender. However, the mission is to bridge the gender gap in STEM by highlighting successful female scientists that can serve as role models for young women hoping to pursue STEM. She expressed enthusiasm that the new virtual format for events would allow YWIB to reach even more students in the future, potentially not located near one of YWIB’s 13 chapters in North America. Dr. Herbert encouraged participants to attend virtual events hosted by any of these chapters and to explore the various events already available for viewing on the YWIB YouTube channel.

Dr. Jolene Lau, Ph.D., a senior research analyst at Ferring, then welcomed the Scripps interns virtually to the San Diego Ferring site. She shared with students that her own path to Ferring had also involved time at Scripps Research Institute. She researched recombinant viral nanoparticles to earn her Ph. D. in Chemistry. Dr. Lau then provided a quick, but thorough, overview of Ferring the company, the business of drug research and development, the breadth of molecules that are used as drugs, and how these are optimized.

Founded in 1950, Ferring is a privately owned, research-driven specialty biopharmaceutical group headquartered in Switzerland. With a global presence in over 110 countries worldwide, the San Diego based Ferring group is one of 13 research and development centres worldwide, and they specialize in developing drugs for reproductive medicine and maternal health, gastroenterology, and urology. While the San Diego site specializes in preclinical development, Dr. Lau provided an overview of the path a drug must traverse to market. She underscored the types of data that are collected within each phase of a clinical trial, the percentage of drugs that advance through each phase, the number of patients involved in each clinical trial, and the average cost per patient of these trials. The total to bring a drug to market was ~$1.4 billion. Even then she showed that many drugs may not succeed on the market for the following reasons:

  1. Poor timing, perhaps a drug that performs equally well, was available earlier.
  2. The drug does not perform better than previous drugs, one only finds out how well the drug performs compared to the current standard of care in phase III trials after significant investment.
  3. Low patient or doctor interest, the drug must provide a significant advantage over the current standard of care.
  4. Poor business decisions, i.e. pricing blunders or poor marketing strategies.

Because of the significant investment in developing a drug, if it makes it successfully to market, the innovating drug developer is provided a certain level of patent and regulatory protection before generic manufacturers can launch their own products. Given the focus on research and development at the San Diego site, Dr. Lau highlighted that the reinvestment into research and development is a necessity across not just the pharmaceutical industry, but all innovation and technology-driven fields.

Dr. Lau then expressed her regret that the students were not able to break off into groups to tour the laboratories at Ferring but showed some photos of scientists in the labs. She provided a brief description of the cyclic preclinical drug development process pursued at the San Diego site. First, chemists will work to design and synthesize molecules that might become drugs. These molecules will be tested within in vitro biological assays to find the molecules that give the desired result. Those that function in in vitro assays are then optimized for their pharmacokinetic properties, or how they break down in the body, before testing within in vivo animal models to determine whether the drugs improve the symptoms of disease. Molecules may return to the chemists to be redesigned and optimized at any of these multiple steps.

After this incredible summary of the drug development process, the program transitioned to a career panel, moderated by Dr. Herbert. In addition to Dr. Lau, the panel was composed of two additional accomplished women working in different capacities at the San Diego Ferring site. Students were first introduced to Erica Schoeller, Ph.D., a research scientist who works to identify new drug targets in the reproductive medicine and maternal health therapeutic area. As the one panelist that works at the bench, she spoke to the difficulties in conducting lab work in this time of COVID-19. While she does go into the lab, her time there is limited and focused on getting tasks done. She expressed that she misses the ability to interact and discuss science with colleagues casually.


On the other hand, Mimika Koletsou, MS, MBA, a senior informatics analyst, currently the business lead for a drug discovery data project and a core member of the global R&D data strategy team, described how the current pandemic has broken down some barriers. With virtual meetings and working from home now the norm, the colleagues she works with from many of Ferring’s sites around the world no longer seem so distant. There is a new sense that everybody is in the same boat; working with remote colleagues is no different than working with somebody on the other side of the country or ocean. Dr. Lau, who students had already heard from, then looked into her day-to-day as a senior analyst. She described that her position entails providing scientific and competitive intelligence to drug discovery teams at Ferring. Thus, she does a lot of reading and computer searches like a detective to uncover articles and information to support her colleagues across multiple therapeutic areas. This work requires her to, rather than be very focused, have extremely broad expertise across the many areas that Ferring works.

There were several important takeaways from the panel discussion. First, the recent advances in technology and regulations requiring data sharing have led to a wealth of available and easily accessible data. Additionally, new experimental techniques and easy access to kits and cell lines mean that research can progress faster. Thus, the volume of papers published has expanded, and we now have easy access to all of these publications. The deluge of information and data available to researchers necessitates that students be versed in data analysis skills that allow them to take advantage of these datasets and/or develop skills to sift through information quickly to avoid data overload. Besides these technical skills, the panelists all agreed that learning to communicate confidently and clearly and is willing to listen with an open mind to people with differing views is essential. Drug development is a team process, and even science in academia is increasingly done in large collaborative teams. Thus, learning to work in groups is essential for a successful career in STEM.

Students were then given an opportunity to hone their teamwork skills by participating in an exercise on drug naming and pitch presentations. Dr. Lau introduced students to the fact that drugs usually have two names, the brand name, and the generic name. The brand name, which is specific to the drug manufacturer, is approved by the FDA, cannot suggest effectiveness, and should not be easily confused with other drug names. Groups were then given eight drug names and indications that they were supposed to pair, without resorting to online searches. Putting themselves in the shoes of a marketing executive and a member of the medical affairs team, they then had to choose one drug with its indication for which to create a marketing tagline and list of benefits to patients, respectively. Teams seemed to use a combination of familiarity with the drugs and simple word association to pair drugs. One team, remarkably, got all eight pairs correct, while another team used stock images found online to convince their peers that their drug was one they wanted to ask their doctor about. The event ended with a Zoom poll to determine the winning marketing tagline and medical affairs groups.

The event was a great success, and everyone expressed their hopes that it can be repeated in the future at Ferring!

Tags:  2020 

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YWIB-Southern California: Genomes, Germs, and Jewelry – Part 1: DNA on Display!, July 1, 2020

Posted By Kristina M Herbert, Wednesday, July 8, 2020
 Young Women In Bio-Southern California’s (YWIB-Southern California's) first of three virtual experiential summer learning events for middle and high school students, entitled “DNA on Display!”, took place last week on Zoom. The event was designed to encourage young women and girls to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) interests and become tomorrow’s leaders that will help to bridge the gender gap and foster diversity in STEM. Over 34 students from more than 20 schools in Southern California and additional locations across the country participated in this event to bring science-themed jewelry to students. Sponsored by and New England Bio Labs, YWIB-Southern California was able to send jewelry and science supplies to registered students so that they would be able to engage in hands-on learning, even in this remote setting. The event featured Julia Picker, Kaitlyn Wang, Lily Pfeizer, April Zou, and Kaley Mafong from Biopolis, a student-run organization at Canyon Crest Academy that engages San Diego youth in exciting experiments in order to ignite an early love of science, as well as Kjerstie Bourne a sale representative at Elim Bio a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that provides a variety of DNA sequencing and purification services.

Dr. Kristina Herbert – the Chair of YWIB-Southern California initiated the event with a brief introduction to YWIB – telling the audience that “YWIB gives girls today the inspiration and support they need to become tomorrow’s leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” She expressed enthusiasm that the new virtual format for events would allow YWIB to reach even more students in the future, potentially students not located near one of YWIB’s 13 chapters in North America. Dr. Herbert encouraged participants to attend events at any one of these chapters and gave brief introductions to both the National YWIB Ambassador initiative, launched this past Spring, and the YWIB-Southern California Biotech Influencers program, which will start in the Fall.

Then Julia and Kaitlyn gave a short introduction to themselves and Biopolis, the science outreach organization the two co-founded. Julia explained that Biopolis was initiated and is still run off of funds the organization earned from a summer 2019 biotech camp they hosted for younger students in their community of Carmel Valley. These funds have allowed them to engage underserved youth in hands-on STEM activities. Biopolis has partnered with Solutions for Change, an organization that provides services to help families escape homelessness, organizing STEM-themed activities for the children, while parents attend meetings or educational services. Kaitlyn also described their partnership with the Children’s Initiative to bring after school STEM activities targeting 4th through 6th graders. Studies have found that if students within this age range develop an interest in STEM during these years, they are much more likely to pursue it later in life. The girls also advertised their new virtual camp for this summer (, the proceeds of which will allow them to continue to do STEM outreach in the Fall.

The young women of Biopolis were truly inspirational, with each girl Julia, Kaitlyn, Lily, April, and Kaley, describing what excites them about science. Whether it’s the ability to discover something new that nobody has observed before, understanding the world better, being able to help society with the discovery of a drug or vaccine, or getting to work with others towards a common goal, they are all passionate about the work they do in Biopolis. Lily expanded on how working with Biopolis allowed her to discover that communicating and teaching science brings her happiness. Then, Julia and Kaitlyn encouraged students to pursue internships in research labs for the summer, emphasizing the number of e-mails that one might need to send before finally getting a positive response, and Lilly described ways to get involved in STEM within schools.

Next, the young women of Biopolis described the science of DNA extraction and what each of the steps are designed to accomplish. The dish soap dissolves the fatty cell membranes in order to release the cellular contents, including DNA. Pineapple juice, contact lens solution, or meat tenderizer is added to further degrade the other contents of the cells. Salt is added to neutralize the negatively charged DNA backbone allowing DNA to fold on itself and then isopropyl alcohol is added to finally precipitate the DNA. Julia demonstrated the extraction from her own saliva and then showed students how to add the their very own DNA to the tiny vials that can be worn as a necklace. Kaitlyn showed everyone her extracted DNA necklace from a year ago, thus demonstrating the resilience of DNA!

At this point, the presentation transitioned to Kjerstie Bourne who described how an infection with Valley Fever as a child, prompted her father, a professor of sociology, to partner with MDs and Phds to initiate a study to learn more about the disease and this experience ignited her love of science. Her love of science and interest in biotechnology stems from a desire to help others. She also emphasized that science has been an amazingly interesting, engaging, and also flexible career for her. She was able to change what she was doing based on her family and children's needs.

As Kjerstie currently works at a CRO that provides DNA sequencing and purification services, she explained that a CRO provides services for other research organizations, including both biotech and pharmaceutical companies as well as academic researchers. She explained that DNA is being used to trace people’s family history, for genetic testing, and medical diagnostics, as well as forensics, anthropology, paleontology, and archeology. Kjerstie provided insight on the molecular structure of DNA, but then also what DNA looks like when the scientists at Elim Bio receive it from researchers. Researchers often add circular DNA constructs called plasmids to bacteria to propagate and produce lots more of a particular DNA sequence; so Elim often gets DNA in bacteria either grown on agar plates, pelleted to the bottom of small Eppendorf tubes, or grown in culture in 96 well plates. Bacteria can also be provided in glycerol which can be frozen and woken up to grow later. Finally, DNA can also be extracted like the Biopolis young women showed us and dried in a tube. For their clients, Elim might then either purify the desired DNA from the bacteria in a quick format called a mini-prep or they might perform additional purification processes to ensure the DNA is free of bacteria known as endotoxins so that the DNA can be used in vivo without promoting an immune response to the bacteria. Elim also provides DNA sequencing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) services. Since the next YWIB-Southern California summer series event, is going to focus on DNA sequencing technology, Kjerstie rather showed a wonderful video to demonstrate the way in which PCR allows one to amplify a specific sequence of DNA to create a ton of copies.

The event ended with Biopolis, Kjerstie, and Kristina fielding questions about DNA extraction. It was noticed, for example, that the color of the dish soap influences the color of the extracted DNA, so students were encouraged to try different things to optimize their own DNA extractions!

Tags:  2020 

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WIB-Southern California: Young Women In Bio: The Future of Life Sciences & Tech, February 18, 2020

Posted By Kristina Herbert , Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On February 18, 2020, Young Women In Bio (YWIB) Southern California partnered together with Thermo Fisher Scientific to host “The Future of Life Sciences and Technology” in Carlsbad, California, where Thermo Fisher’s Southern California offices are located. This event stemmed from a Young Women In Bio national initiative to engage young girls in discussions and activities focused on how life sciences and technology are working together to solve health and other life science-related problems and came almost exactly two years after a similar event in New York...

Please click here for the entire recap and additional photos

Tags:  2020 

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