Kelly, R&D, USA

Kelly Schwarz is a technical engineer working in the US. A recent graduate, this is her first job since completing her degree. 

Hi Kelly, explain to us what you do at GSK.

I work in the global manufacturing and supply organisation at GSK. Specifically, I work on a class of molecules called biologics – so not the small molecule drugs – but the protein therapeutics. These are often used for oncology, infectious disease, or auto-immune disorder applications. There has been a large increase in biologics development over the last 20 years, and in some applications, they’ve shown to be incredibly efficacious.

My role is a technical support one, so when there are problems that occur during manufacturing, I would be the one that gets called in to troubleshoot that issue. 

What’s keeping you busy at the moment?

Our processes are run in a bioreactor with live growing cells that have been engineered to produce the biologic drug of interest. One of the main challenges is that you need to grow a large quantity of cells to produce enough of your drug, and you need to find a way to do so reliably and consistently. A large part of my job is trying to locate sources of process variability – i.e. why the cells may have grown well during one run of our bioreactor and not another – and implement solutions to ensure more predictable manufacturing performance in the future.

Right now, we’re also trialling new technologies to help our cells grow faster and/or allow us to accumulate more cells in our reactor in a shorter amount of time. That way, we can improve our productivity and ultimately get drugs to patients quicker.

Wow, sounds fascinating – and your career is just getting going!

I’m pretty new to GSK. I’ve been here for less than a year and have actually just finished my PHD – so this is my first role out of school!

And what attracted you to work for GSK?

I’ve always been interested in engineering and science, and the pharmaceutical industry has always been attractive to me as I’d like to work on things that make an impact on people and human health.

GSK really makes an effort to strengthen its global reach, so you’re not just focused on medications for the developed world, but also how to implement solutions for a wide variety of different populations.

GSK really makes an effort to strengthen its global reach, so you’re not just focused on medications for the developed world, but also how to implement solutions for a wide variety of different populations.

Has anything inspired you since you joined?

I think a lot of the time in this industry you can get stuck in your processes, but GSK has been trying to push that envelope and implement new technologies and new strategies to make the process more efficient. These changes will enable GSK to produce more material and more drugs to get them to patients faster, so that’s really exciting!

And you’re at the forefront of that change?

Yes, my department gets involved early. We might be implementing a new technology, which would first be tested in a smaller scale research and development lab, and we’ll be looking at the new technology and helping evaluate how it may perform on the manufacturing floor. We would help develop that technology and then help transfer that perspective into the manufacturing environment.

What would you say are the skills you need for your role?

I think you’ve got to be interested in problem-solving. A lot of my job is digging into data and figuring out exactly what issues are at hand and how to solve them. You also have to be tenacious. Sometimes in manufacturing you’re limited by regulatory aspects, so you can’t just implement any change that you want at any time. You have to be creative to figure out how you can solve that problem.

A lot of my job is digging into to data and figuring out exactly what issues are at hand.

Right, and do you get a buzz when you manage to solve those problems?

Yes, for sure. It’s exciting, and every little bit is important. I mean, you’re driven by how much you can produce, and that’s the bottom line really – what is your yield at the end of the process?

How would you describe the working culture at GSK?

Very collaborative. I’m generally in meetings every day with people from manufacturing to people on the supply chain to people in R&D. I interact with a variety of people. You’re using their experience and expertise to solve your problems, and you’re thinking about the implications of everything that’s going on in their world.

Everyone is knowledgeable too, a lot of people on my team have been with GSK for 10+ years.

I interact with a variety of people. You’re using their experience and expertise to solve your problems, and you’re thinking about the implications of everything that’s going on in their world.

Is there anything that would surprise people about your job?

When I tell people what I do, they think that I just spend all my time operating the equipment, but that’s not what I actually do. I support those activities by trying to figure out how to make those processes operate reliably and consistently.

What are your career aspirations?

I see myself maintaining a technical role within GSK. I’ve always liked being involved with science, but would like to advance within the technical path to have more responsibility and drive the direction that biologics are taking in the future. I know a lot of people jump back and forth between manufacturing and R&D operations as they’re linked, so I suspect that may happen throughout my career, too.

What does the future hold for manufacturing?

One of the challenges right now in manufacturing is being able to change quickly to adapt to new markets or new drugs that are being approved. A lot of the time, manufacturing plants are composed of an interconnected series of large stainless steel tanks and they work well, but often they were specifically designed to work for one drug or process. We’re trying to figure out how to implement new technology that can improve flexibility and allow us to adapt quickly to changing markets or a changing drug pipeline.

How would you describe your relationship with your seniors?

I have a really great boss who’s been in the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years. He’s been really helpful and supportive. In academia, you rarely work on things that are this large of a scale, so transitioning to a large manufacturing stage was a challenging but exciting change.

In academia, you rarely work on things that are this large of a scale.

What advice would you have for a candidate coming to interview for a role like yours?

I would say that if you’re interested in the pharmaceutical industry – in solving new challenges for manufacturing and getting a wide range of experiences – then this group is a really nice fit. As long as you have a strong engineering background, enjoy solving technical problems, and can talk about science with other people in a meaningful way, you’d be great in this role.

Search