Christophe Van Laeken
Unique Journey to a Career in Biotech
As a high school student in Belgium, Christophe Van Laeken often wondered which job would be right for him in the future. He knew he always liked the sciences, but it was not until university that he realized he could combine his many scientific interests into a biotech career.
Now as a qualified assurance specialist at Amgen in Breda, The Netherlands, Van Laeken is responsible for making sure products meet regulatory requirements. ABE spoke with Van Laeken about his early interest in science, his role at Amgen, and advice for students now.
How did you first become interested in science?
I used to watch the National Geographic channel when I was a child. Watching wild animal and scientific episodes, I got interested in nature and science. I used to have a big encyclopedia with all the different animal species, and I would read this book before going to sleep. During high school, I was further drawn to biology but also chemistry and physics; the books I read before became study material instead.
What was high school like?
I attended high school in a small town in Belgium. I started studying Latin, which included biology, chemistry, and physics. Latin really helped me on “How to learn,” but from the fifth year on, I decided to focus on the sciences as they really reflected my interests.
Can you tell me briefly about your path after high school?
At the end of high school, I chose pharmaceutical sciences to study in university. After getting a bachelor of pharmaceutical sciences and doing a short-term internship in both pharmacies and industry, I chose to pursue a master’s degree in industry. In my final year of the master’s program, I got the opportunity to select a pharmaceutical company. I selected Amgen, as it was a company I did not know yet, but I was very enthusiastic about it since the company’s primary focus was biotech. During my 6-month stay at Amgen Breda, I really enjoyed the work environment and Amgen culture. I was offered a job at QA Operations, staying in that position for about 1.5 years and then moved into a QP (qualified person) role.
What is your current job like?
As the QP, I am responsible for the batch release process. That means I am responsible from a regulatory perspective to make sure the medicinal product produced for the market complies with product filing and regulatory requirements.
Is there anything you wish you had known about in high school to better prepare you for this career?
Yes, that would be management and economics. It’s something that was not part of the standard education in Belgium to become a pharmacist, but it could be an important asset when starting your career in biotech.
What do you like the most about your job?
I really like the variability. Working in a manufacturing environment, there’s not a day that passes without new topics that pop up. I am part of a highly dynamic organization, which takes a lot of effort but, at the same time, gives me core responsibility for market release of the product. I feel proud of that.
What advice do you have for students now?
I remember that I always wondered what job would suit me but, in the end, you should look at what motivates you. Which courses do you enjoy studying and reading about? Look at your personal interest even from your private life outside of school; usually that provides an answer and what path you should take.