PDA Letter Article

Life Science Panel Discusses Career Journeys

by Christy Wong, Keck Graduate Institute, Student Chapter Communication Chairperson, PDA Southern California Chapter

Leaders in Life Science panel

Building a career in the life sciences industry requires using past failures as a foundation for future successes.

This was one of the main points expressed by a panel of life science leaders at the sophomore Leaders in Life Sciences event arranged by PDA’s Southern California Chapter at the Genentech facilities in Oceanside, Calif. July 25. An evening filled with networking, delicious food, and thoughtful conversation, the event boasted over 140 attendees and 16 exhibitors.

It began with a networking session sponsored by iNK Digital Networking and Samsung. Attendees had the option of professionally connecting through iNK, a newly launched mobile app aimed to facilitate networking and streamline the exchange of business cards and information. A Samsung-operated photo booth was also available for the attendees to capture potential LinkedIn photos in a unique and entertaining way.

The chapter was honored to have PDA President Richard Johnson and other distinguished industry leaders participate in the event. The panelists were Alan Taaghol, Gayle Derfus, Kevin Charrier, Nazeli Dertsakian and Valerie Whelan. E.J. Brandreth served as the moderator.

After Chapter President Randy George’s opening remarks, Annmarie Duran was recognized as the chapter’s Board Member of the Quarter for Q2. She is Member-At-Large Committee Chairperson, Philanthropy and Donations and Events and Venues. Next, Chapter Vendor Outreach Chairperson Herbert Matheson recognized all the sponsors and exhibitors. Per the chapter’s custom, each annual sponsor and exhibitor was given an opportunity to speak about their company's products and services for two minutes. Chapter Treasurer Greg Mills concluded the opening remarks by thanking Genentech for hosting the event and helping organize the venue, security and catering.

The panelists then commenced the discussion by talking about their professional journeys, including lessons learned throughout their years in the industry. They spoke about turning points in their careers, emphasizing that positive catalysts arise in the face of difficulty. Charrier exemplified the aforementioned maxim when he struggled for over half a decade to achieve regulatory compliance after his company received a U.S. FDA consent decree. He proclaimed that the hardship he endured during this period not only built resilience, but also served as a learning experience that he draws from even years later in a different role.

The seasoned veterans also revealed the major influences in their careers. Three common influences for all were: failure, constructive feedback and communication. Each of these have been contributors to professional growth. Johnson, whose career has spanned from microbiology to engineering, pointed out that the journey of growth and evolution is not without hard work and curiosity. He also advised young professionals to not be afraid to try different things. Experimentation helps realize interests and motivations.

The panel also spoke about current industry trends, most notably, the advent of big data. The conversation revolved around the impact of technological advancement on already existing processes. The group concurred that the integration of big data in manufacturing processes is still a feat to be worked on, given, as Taaghol pointed out, big data has rendered both GCP and GMP processes less applicable than before. Whelan echoed this sentiment, noting that regulators are still working on adapting big data to speed up the process of providing products to patients. In order to make the best decisions, Dertsakian explained that generating the right data precludes its adaptation.

The group also touched on the caveats of big data, with data security being at the forefront. Both Charrier and Taaghol expressed concern about potential opportunities for data breaches involving cloud systems. This is a challenge that both regulators and the industry stakeholders will inevitably face together.

The panelists also gave their thoughts on the future of the life sciences industry. Derfus spoke about continuously rising cost pressures, and the challenge of creating cost-effective processes as a result. She emphasized that innovations in the lab must also be reproduced in manufacturing. But the room for innovation is rather large. Johnson pointed out that there is now a plethora of novel therapies available for patients than in the past. He furthermore proclaimed that the rise of an aging population is a definite springboard for innovation. The rate of advancement, however, is largely dictated by regulation and infrastructure. Brandreth added that both regulators and the industry should aim to move away from Eroom’s Law, and perhaps instead inch towards its semordnilap: Moore’s Law.

The event concluded with a raffle led by Sheba Zaman, Chapter President-Elect and Jason Kerr, Student Chapter/Young Professional Chairperson. Prizes ranged from $100 gift cards to exquisite bottles of wine and a complimentary one-year PDA membership!

George concluded the event by awarding a sizable donation to Science Rare Bears, a community outreach program for children with rare diseases. The chapter frequently recognizes organizations in the life sciences community for their good work and supports their initiatives through monetary donations.

The success of this occasion would not have been reached without the contributions of Genentech, Southern California PDA Chapter board officers, members at large, volunteers, student chapter members, sponsors and exhibitors. A huge thanks to everyone for their help and support for an event well done!

PDA Who' s Who

  • E.J. Brandreth, Senior Vice President of Quality, Inovio Pharmaceuticals
  • Kevin Charrier, Vice President of Quality, Par Pharmaceuticals Inc.
  • Gayle Derfus, Senior Director of Cell Line and Upstream Process Development, Gilead Sciences
  • Nazeli Dertsakian, General Manager, Vice President, Genentech Oceanside Biologics Operations
  • Annmarie Duran, Life Sciences Consultant
  • Randy George, Director of Sales, ValGenesis
  • Richard Johnson, PDA President
  • Jason Kerr, QA Specialist, Amgen
  • Herbert Matheson, President, VTI Life Sciences
  • Greg Mills, Director, AXRTECH
  • Alan Taaghol, PhD, Director of Global Quality Engineering, Kite Pharma
  • Valerie Whelan, Vice President R&D, Quality, Amgen
  • Sheba Zaman, Head of Product Specialists and Training Services, Novatek International