Narrow bridges

Bridges to biotechnology and bioentrepreneurship: improving diversity in the biotechnology sector

We have designed B2BB to prepare students for the MSM MSBT program, for the biotechnology industry and / or to start their own bioventure. For practical purposes, it also prepared students for an online degree program, as the follow-up master’s degree program was conducted entirely online. To give students direct exposure to biotechnology, the program engaged them with current events, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest in the summer of 2020.

The program allowed students to immediately start MSBT at MSM upon completion of B2BB. At the time of the B2BB application, students knew that if they passed the B2BB program, they would automatically be admitted and receive a scholarship of $ 1,000 for the MSBT degree program.

Recruitment of participants

Since B2BB graduates were automatically admitted to the MSBT program, only applicants who met the admission criteria for the graduate program were considered for B2BB. When soliciting applications, we targeted under-represented students, particularly African Americans and members of other underserved populations across the United States. We were unable to admit any students from outside the United States because their qualifications did not match those of the MSBT program. Applicants were junior or senior students at the time of application who have demonstrated an interest in the field of biotechnology and who preferably have a strong background in science or mathematics. Post-baccalaureate students interested in pursuing a career in the biotechnology industry or with entrepreneurial interests were also considered. Most of the applicants had majors in science, technology, engineering, arts or mathematics, with an explicit interest in health or biomedical services.

We received 326 applications, interviewed 130 applicants and enrolled 54 students in the B2BB program. We interviewed applicants who submitted a full application, including two letters of reference; who had a cumulative grade point average (GPA) ≥ 2.8 (in accordance with the requirements of the MSBT program); and who answered “Yes” when asked if they were interested in joining the MSBT program.

The interviews lasted ten minutes and included a panel of five interviewers, including the creators of the program. Students were asked: (i) “Why do you want to join B2BB? “; (ii) “How will this help you achieve your long term goals?” “And (iii)” If you are not selected for B2BB, will you still apply for the MSBT program? On a practical level, we also checked the availability of students during the duration of the program. Students also had to commit to meeting the requirements of our B2BB program: not missing more than two sessions, completing weekly graded assignments and a research project, and completing pre- and post-program surveys.

The admissions team recommended respondents to join the B2BB program based on their academic aptitude on a scale of 1 to 5, which was based on their interview responses, letters of recommendation in their applications, and their interest in enrolling in the fall or spring MSBT program. next B2BB.

Design and rationale for the study program

In short, the program consisted of an orientation, seven thematic modules and a culminating event in which the entrepreneurial teams presented their business proposals. The orientation gave students an overview of the program, personal presentations, the online etiquette used throughout the program and what it means to define a value proposition.

The first module, ‘Research Basics’, covered the basics of a grant and a research project, the fundamentals of research using animal models and human subjects, as well as safety and security. label required in the laboratory. The “Project Management” module introduced students to the project life cycle and project management processes and distinguished between projects, programs and routine tasks. In the ‘Preparation for a Career’ module, students began writing job-specific resumes, cover letters and personal statements, and received comments and interview preparation exercises with special attention. the development of critical thinking and problem solving.

“Making Medicines: The Process of Drug Development” was an intensive, week-long second module covering the life cycle and regulatory and ethical issues involved in drug development. Specifically, this module aimed to illuminate the roles and contributions of pharmaceutical companies in advancing new therapies, and the general journey from drug discovery to market. We remain extremely grateful for the support given to this module by Eli Lilly & Company. The module provided (i) an overview of drug development and regulatory approval, drug discovery, rational approach to drug development, non-clinical and early stage clinical trials, advanced stage clinical trials , the drug approval process and continuing clinical development, that is, phase 4 clinical trials. A COVID-19 pandemic case study module aimed to brief all participants current research-based knowledge of the biology, epidemiology and clinical symptomatology of the virus. Following these updates, the module reviewed the general principles of vaccine design and the latest innovations in COVID-19 vaccine development.

“Making Medicines” was followed by a module on “Laboratory Safety” and Best Regulatory Practices: Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), Good Clinical Practices (GCP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The learning objectives were to enable the students to understand the best practices applicable to any biotechnology related company in the United States. They were expected to understand root cause analysis; explain the different hazard classes, hygiene plans, exposure limits, safety controls, etc. ; be able to describe the key elements of hazard communication; and understand the limits of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by the end of the B2BB program.

A “Public Health Informatics Boot Camp” module gave students a hands-on exposure to coding, working with statistics, MySQL databases, Internet languages ​​(HTML, XML and JSON), the basics of analysis data and Python coding, and group project presentations using data from the Centers for Disease Control on COVID-19. A silver lining to this pandemic is that considerable data and information was available, allowing us to integrate these datasets into our program.

After a preparatory module entitled “Lean Biotech Start-up & Entrepreneurship: I-CORPS and the Path to Commercialization”, the students embarked on their final project, “Value Proposition and Business Model of a Biotechnology”. These projects gave students an immersive experience in the pipeline of creating a biotechnology product or service, with defining a value proposition and discovering the customer as basic exercises. During this module, students spent a lot of time discussing with customers and testing their biotech business hypotheses. They regularly reported on their team’s discovery process to instructors and gave daily five-minute presentations on their progress. The module ended with a pitch day, during which the teams highlighted their business premises and the value propositions of their minimum viable products. This aspect of the B2BB program went beyond the offerings of other pipeline programs that we are aware of, as it prepared students for additional graduate degrees, such as medical, dental, nursing and doctoral degrees, because learning what is valued in the different sectors of biotechnology has strengthened their practical and practical knowledge of paramedical disciplines. This particular module sets itself apart by exposing students to essential business elements – forming a business model, developing and testing business hypotheses, and building relationships with key thought leaders (KOLs). Thus, the B2BB program has provided an experience that reflects current activities in the biotech industry more than any other existing pipeline program.

We note that external partnerships have been essential to achieving these goals. This first external partnership of the B2BB program was with Eli Lilly. Importantly, the ‘Making Medicines’ module included a one-day lecture and exercises with a radio and TV host, Rashad Richey, who provided insight into how to deal with political issues in healthcare. health and health equity, as well as personal and product marketing and branding.

In addition, the reception of 326 applications far exceeded our expectations, as we had initially planned to have only 15 participants for this first cohort. To help us respond to this overwhelming interest, the United Negro College Fund provided financial support which enabled 54 students to enter B2BB. Notably, 30 of the 106 survey respondents (28.3%) were first generation college students.

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