Bernadette Gallagher, senior scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb
Bernadette Gallagher, senior scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb Biologics Cruiserath

The role of a scientist in biotech evolves with the sector

20 Jul 2016

Ask someone to picture a scientist, and perhaps they picture an Albert Einstein type – all crazy hair and madcap ideas. But the day-to-day experience of science is far different from that.

Bernadette Gallagher, a senior scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) Biologics Cruiserath, gives us some insight into what a day in her job looks like.

What is your role within BMS?

I’m a senior scientist in manufacturing science and technology (MS&T) at BMS Cruiserath.

Can you tell us about your background?

My science career began by undertaking a degree in human physiology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). As I neared the end, I discovered my passion for the pharmaceutical industry and decided to move in this direction. This led me to undertake a PhD in biochemistry at the Institute of Technology Carlow.

Luckily for me, the biopharma industry began to take off in a big way in Ireland, and I realised that many opportunities lay ahead. When I finished my study, I joined the rapidly expanding biopharma training company NIBRT, who are the biopharma industry’s foremost provider of technical training and research. I was with NIBRT for six exciting years and, during this time, the industry in Ireland continued to grow at a rapid pace.

Over the years, I was lucky enough to interact with the major biopharma companies, and the way they worked and their innovative products really appealed to me. BMS announced plans to build a biologics plant in Dublin in late 2014 and I saw this as an opportunity to progress my career with them. I have now been with BMS for three months.

What led you to this role?

BMS is in the process of constructing a biologics manufacturing plant in Cruiserath, Dublin. Here, they will initially manufacture Opdivo, an immuno-oncology drug to treat melanoma, lung and kidney cancer.

An opening became available on their MS&T team and, given my educational background and previous experience with different biopharma processes, I was selected as senior scientist in the purification group.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

At the minute, no two days are the same. We are currently in the process of setting up a satellite lab while our new facility is being constructed in Cruiserath. This gives us the time to really understand how Opdivo is made so, when the time comes, we are ready to support manufacturing.

Right now, the majority of my time is focused on getting the lab operational, and this can involve anything from planning experiments to liaising with equipment vendors and ordering everything in the lab catalogue. In addition to this, I am also involved in the design of our new labs in Cruiserath.

In the next month, we will begin actual science. We plan to run the manufacturing process at lab scale to really understand the ins and outs of this therapeutic drug. This time next year, we will be moving back to our new lab in Cruiserath and the process of lab set-up will start all over again.

What types of project do you work on?

When we are up and running, the majority of my time will be focused on the tech transfer of Opdivo’s manufacturing process into the MS&T lab and establishing this process at lab scale. I will need to validate that this is identical to the large-scale manufacturing process so I can use this lab-scale process to troubleshoot any issues that large-scale manufacturing may run into.

Going forward, I will be working on continuous improvement projects for manufacturing in Cruiserath and will work collaboratively with the global MS&T network within BMS.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Research skills, teamwork, personal motivation and time management.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

I find making to-do lists really helps me. Before I head home each evening, I take a few minutes to plan my next day and identify the key tasks needing my attention.

How has this role changed as the biotech sector has grown and evolved?

This sector is ever evolving. Biopharma is becoming the core of the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, but this industry does have its challenges.

Biopharma drug manufacture is a lengthy process. The product is made from living cells grown in a controlled environment. It then must be separated from these cells and put into a solution safe for injection into humans. All this must be carried out without destroying the fragile, complex structure of the product, while ensuring it is safe and efficacious for the patient.

In the MS&T lab we strive to maximise efficiencies in the manufacturing process. We tweak different stages of the process to improve yields. We also evaluate new technologies and help solve problems that manufacturing encounter. As you can see, this role is ever evolving, too.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I enjoy the responsibility of this job and the team interaction as we work together to overcome the challenges of start-up. I also like the professional and personal growth that BMS promotes.

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