The BioBusiness Certificate Program at Georgetown University: A Chat With An Alumna
The Certificate in Biotechnology, with a focus on BioBusiness, is a 10-credit program available from Georgetown University’s MS in Biotechnology Program. The Certificate aims to help prepare current scientists; postdoctoral fellows; PhD students and working professionals in scientific and managerial roles in the biopharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. The program consists of four core courses and five elective courses. Examples of core courses include Financial Matrix in Biotechnology and Intellectual Property. As five of the nine courses are electives, the program allows students to choose courses according to their interests and fields of work. Particularly popular elective courses are: FDA Case Studies; Drug Development to Post Approval and Portfolio & Project Management, each of which are taught by adjunct faculty whom are leaders in these respective fields.
To help those interested in the Certificate program gain a better understanding of the program itself and its requirements, we recently interacted with an alumna of the Certificate Program: Dr. Maria Fe Lanfranco. Dr. Lanfranco is a reputed scientist at the National Institute of Aging (NIA, NIH), working as a Health Specialist in the Translational Research Branch, within the Division of Neuroscience. She enrolled in the Certificate Program in 2021 to help broaden her horizons and explore a career in commercialization of therapeutic drugs. Below you will find the details of our conversation:
Perhaps you can provide a brief introduction to your past experience and also what made you decide to pursue the BioBusiness Certificate Program?
Dr. Lanfranco: I am a US citizen with a Latin American heritage. I am originally from Lima, Peru and in 2003 I started a PhD program at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston TX to pursue my interest in research projects that help understanding pathophysiological disorders, and developing and identifying novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of such disorders. As a graduate student in TX and junior postdoctoral fellow in CA, I focused my research on elucidating adaptations in the brain associated with addictive behavior to cocaine and alcohol, respectively.
In 2014, I moved to Washington DC, and joined Georgetown University as a postdoctoral fellow. My research there was diverse, from biophysical properties of proteins to neuroinflammation and the APOE genotype effects on the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. By 2018, I started veering my career away from the bench and towards grant writing, funding, and fostering innovation. I enrolled in a few other short-duration opportunities at other Universities which sparked my interest in consulting, focused on market and commercialization. But more specifically, I was interested in the scientific exercise of analyzing the potential commercialization of a therapeutic drug, the market landscape, and the decision-making of moving a drug forward into the market. These new interests prompted me to pursue the Certificate in Biotechnology BioBusiness at Georgetown University, which I began in 2021.
When I enrolled in the Certificate in Biotechnology BioBusiness, I wanted to take advantage of Georgetown University’s exquisite network opportunities and to get familiarized with concepts of leadership roles in science; management of government-driven science, and the process of FDA drug approval.
You had entered into the Certificate Program as an established scientist having already earned your doctorate. In what ways has the Program helped to improve your skillset?
Dr. Lanfranco: I now have a better and broader understanding of the drug discovery and development pipeline, its cost and what it takes to get a therapeutic agent to the market. Also, I have a greater appreciation of the regulatory process and approval of therapeutic drugs. I think that the Certificate Program provided me with the language of the biotech industry, which is a pretty cool tool to have as part of my skillset. Also, the program provided me with a network of amazing professionals. I know that I can contact any of my professors and my classmates and introduce myself as someone who has taken the Certificate in BioBusiness and I know that I will get an answer. That is a very powerful tool to have.
Which elective course was your favorite and which elective course would you recommend to incoming students?
Dr. Lanfranco: All my elective courses were very interesting, but my favorite two were ‘FDA Case Studies’, and ‘Commercialization for Biotechnology Industry’. I really enjoyed the case studies from those courses and gained perspective on the history and importance of regulatory policy, and how what is going on in the world shapes the decision for the commercialization of a therapeutic agent (importance of timing in commercialization).
However, the course that nudged me toward my current job position at NIH was Government, Science, and Technology by Drs. Ken Wasserman and Matthew Portnoy. When I heard the talks from multiple speakers in this course, I knew that I wanted to work for the government either in a regulatory or funding capacity. After completing this course, I contacted them for an informational interview to learn more about their experience outside of academia and to see if I could get their feedback on my resume. The experience was amazing and invigorating. They made me think carefully about the transition from bench to desk, which was important because once you step out of the bench, it can be hard to go back.
Was the program easy to follow while working full time and what difficulties did you encounter?
Dr. Lanfranco: Having the unconditional support of my family was a game-changer for me. I am married and have two kids, a dog, and two guinea pigs. I was able to take the course successfully because I had the full support of my family and that made a huge difference. My husband took care of the girls when I was taking my courses or when I was studying for or taking an exam. That was very important to me. I think it would have been a lot more difficult to complete the certificate without the support of my family. Also, I had the “advantage” or “disadvantage” of taking most of the course during the pandemic. One of the advantages of taking the courses during the pandemic was that I didn’t have to think about commuting. A disadvantage was that the only time I got to interact with my classmates was during Zoom. Interacting with people “in person” is way different than interacting with people via a camera, especially when you don’t know them that well. As a certificate student with a full time job and family responsibilities at home, interactions with fellow classmates outside the classroom are limited. Nonetheless, I appreciate meeting and knowing them.
The Certificate Program enrolls individuals from varied backgrounds. Which professionals from the Biotech sector do you think should consider taking this program? Do you think it would be more beneficial for personnel in any specific sector?
Dr. Lanfranco: The Certificate Program is definitely a good program for those who want to transition from academia to the biotech industry or for professors and investigators who would like to venture into the drug discovery arena. From the biotech sector, I would envision anyone who wants to expand their understanding of: 1) the stages involved in drug discovery and developing pipeline; 2) the way biotech and pharma operate, and 3) how all that fits into our healthcare system.
Georgetown’s BioBusiness Certificate Program: Dr. Lanfranco, we would like to sincerely thank you for your time and for your thoughtful responses to our questions. We believe this type of interaction will open doors for future students looking to explore the BioBusiness Certificate Program at Georgetown University. We wish you the very best in the future, and now that you are a part of the Biotechnology family, we hope that you will keep in touch in the years ahead!
For those that feel the BioBusiness Certificate may be of value to them please explore our website for more information. There you will find information regarding the formal program, course offerings, opportunities for part-time study, tuition & scholarship information. Furthermore, for current US federal employees, Georgetown University offers the Federal Academic Alliance Scholarship and recipients of this award receive a 15% discount on tuition throughout the course of your studies. Fall 2024 applications are being accepted through July 1st, 2024. For more information on scholarships please explore GU’s Office of Biomedical Graduate Education.
Written by: Seep Varma and Ranju Ravindranath (MS in Biotechnology candidates, Class of 2024)
Contributions from: Maria Fe Lanfranco Gallofre, PhD
Edits by: Kyle DiVito, PhD