CELS Winter Feature News Article Winter, 2006 Linkages between Amgen and CELS aid students, faculty and programs By: Rudi Hempe, CELS News Editor and Reporter ---------------------------------------------------------- THE expansive, ultra-modern Amgen campus in West Greenwich could easily be used as a set for a science fiction movie but there is nothing fictional about its importance to the state’s economic development and its ongoing involvement with the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS). Just recently, Amgen donated more laboratory equipment for the biotechnology programs in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology worth $81,000—two gas chromatographs, two protein sequencers, centrifuges, incubators and other gear. Those equipment donations plus others given earlier this year total nearly $170,000, says Dr. Greg Paquette, URI's director of biotechnology programs. Earlier this year, Rhode Island landed its first NFS EPSCoR grant--$6.75 million –that will benefit all 11 of the higher education institutions in the state. The intent of the grant is to boost the state’s competitiveness for federal research funding. “Amgen is delighted to partner with the flagship public university in the state,” said Kimball Hall, vice president and general manager of Amgen’s Rhode Island operations. “We have a shared mission in that we both seek an educated populace. Aligning with URI, and particularly CELS, is important to us because you are educating the next generation of life scientists.” According to Larry Bernard, Amgen’s senior manager of corporation communications, there likely will be future equipment donations as well. But the relationship between the pharmaceutical giant and CELS has been more than equipment donations—there has been considerable help rendered on the academic side. Amgen helped CELS set up the biotechnical curriculum by supplying experts from its staff who brought advice and suggestions to the table. “We were able to supply industry experts to help URI students learn what skills are needed in biotechnology manufacturing,” Bernard said. And that help is continuing as Amgen has three people on the Biotechnology Industry Advisory Committee, formed five years ago with representatives of 11 different biotech companies. Paquette noted that in addition to advising, Amgen employees have also served as guest lecturers in the biotechnology program. In fact, Robert Amalfetano, an Amgen manufacturing manager in the cell culture area, gave a talk to students in the biotech manufacturing program just this month. The close cooperation has inevitably led to considerable employment opportunities for URI students at Amgen. Amgen has taken a sizable number of students from the Biotechnology Manufacturing Program based at the Feinstein Campus in Providence and Microbiology Program for full-time, paid one-semester internships, says Paquette, and many have been hired subsequently. In addition, adds Paquette, “They have hired a number of undergraduate students—94 from the Biotechnology Management Program last year—to work in research, development, manufacturing, regulatory affairs and quality assurance.” As for graduate students, Paquette says of about 90 students in the masters program in clinical laboratory science, about half are in the biotechnology track and 15 are from Amgen. "Amgen has been extremely supportive of the development of biotechnology programs for CELS, says Paquette. “They have donated nearly $200,000 in cash and laboratory equipment and provided advisory committee support, lecturers, internships and employment opportunities for the graduates of our three biotechnology programs. The three programs are The BS Biotechnology Manufacturing, BS Microbiology/Biotechnology, and MS Biotechnology programs. The Amgen/CELS partnership has been a ‘win-win’ arrangement and has gone a long way to establishing a strong and robust biomanufacturing industry in the state". The current class in Providence has 24 students and, says, Dr. Kenneth S. Uhnak, manager of the biology labs there, students come for the one year training from all directions. Felicity Alvino, (shown below at left) for example, was a stay-at-home mother for 15 years—she got married right after high school-- and now that her children are older, she decided to explore a career. “I always liked science,” she says. Indeed students get a heavy dose of it in the one-year program. Tim Cinq-mars, another student comes from a different direction. He is one of the few students who entered the program right out of high school and is enrolled at URI as a freshman. Upon completion of the course, the students get a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology—the program is the only one of its type in New England says Uhnak who is excited to be teaching stem cell biology for the first time in the spring to graduate students. Upon graduation, says Uhnak, the students in the Providence program go in all directions for employment. “In general it benefits us and URI to have a strong relationship because CELS is educating the next generation of skilled biotechnology manufacturing talent, which is crucial for the economic development of the state and, quite frankly, Amgen’s continued success in Rhode Island.” - Larry Bernard, Sr. Mgr., Communications, Amgen Bernard said Amgen is in the process of doing a survey of its 1,700 employees. The effort is incomplete but one statistic is already in. Of all the workers at Amgen who attended college in Rhode Island, 45 percent went to URI. “That speaks volumes of how important our relationship with URI is to us,” Bernard says. Monetary support has also been a part of the relationship between Amgen and CELS. Amgen has given $25,000 to help establish the Biotechnology Manufacturing Lab, the Amgen Foundation gave URI more than $100,000 to help launch life.edu, a non-profit venture which is involved with the new on-line biotechnology course being offered by URI CELS. Bernard said cooperation between CELS and Amgen will continue. The company will continue to supply advisors, donate money and equipment and take interns from URI programs and to increase the number of paid internships.
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