July 2011

Meet some of our members in industry

Cynthia Oliver

MedImmune, Inc.
North Potomac, Md.

How long have you been an ASBMB member?
I have been a member of ASBMB since the late 1970s or early 1980s (approximately 30 years).

What is the focus of your company?
I am currently an independent consultant in the development of biotechnology products. I have previously worked at Merck and Company, Inc., and MedImmune, LLC. At both companies I was primarily engaged in biologics. Until I retired from MedImmune in 2010, I was vice president of process biochemistry and formulation sciences. The focus of MedImmune is the development of biologically derived therapeutic agents targeted toward infectious disease, cancer, immunology and autoimmunity as well as vaccine development

What is the focus of your research?
The focus of my research has been to design and develop processes to express, purify, formulate and deliver biologically derived products as therapeutic agents and vaccines. There are many components to process and product development research at MedImmune, including biochemistry, molecular biology, cellular regulation, chemical engineering, virology and protein chemistry. In addition, the scope of my research covers products targeted toward many disease areas involving a variety of complex biological or cellular processes. The formulation part of my research involves investigation of protein chemistry, covalent modification of proteins, protein conformation and stabilization. In the course of my time in industry, I have worked on a variety of products that have been commercialized, such as Ethyol®, Synagis®, FluMist®, Vaqta®, Cervarix®, Cytogam®, Recombivax HB® and several others that have not yet received regulatory approval.

Why did you go into industry?
I went into industry as an extension of my biochemistry training in Earl Stadtman’s laboratory at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. I have found process and product development exciting and extremely challenging because it involves so many diverse areas of scientific investigation. In addition, process and product development routinely requires the development of new technology and innovative approaches to difficult problems.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years?
I believe the research for the biopharmaceutical industry will continue to grow and provide many opportunities in the next five to 10 years. The development and implementation of new technology to enhance the specificity of cellular targets in many disease areas, especially cancer, immunological, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, will continue to have a strong focus. Some examples might include the development of protein products, RNAi, antisense oligonucleotides and exon skipping, nanoparticle technology, controlled release formulations, and novel formulations targeting selective uptake of drugs by specific cells or tissues. There is an ongoing effort to refine product characterization and understand protein conformation, covalent modification, glycosylation of proteins and their interactions with other biological molecules. Other examples of the biochemical engineering component needed to support biopharmaceutical development might include the new and innovative design of processing equipment to streamline processes, the development of new technology for online process monitoring, and control or spray-dry technology to stabilize biopharmaceuticals, thereby making world-wide distribution feasible.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company?
The biopharmaceutical industry is always changing even in a slow economy. Hiring may not be quite as robust as in 2000 – 2007, but I believe there are still a variety of interesting and challenging opportunities for biochemists and molecular biologists in many different types of companies, such as large corporate entities, small entrepreneurial companies where scientists wear many hats, and companies that conduct contract research, such as toxicology or viral safety, analytical methods development, instrumentation or analytical reagent preparation, or growth media development for cell culture.


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