Kevin Dorgan

Reflecting on a Career of Coaching and Cell Farming
If you had asked me in elementary school or high school, or even early in college, what manufacturing was, I would have maybe thought of an assembly line at a plant or a chemical plant. What was really eye opening for me was the ability to use biological processes to make medicine for patients who need it.

Unique Journey to Teaching & ABE 

Kevin Dorgan was recently at a local high school career fair in a rural area near Amgen in Rhode Island. He and a colleague were talking about their work in manufacturing at Amgen using biological processes, and his colleague, Dorgan said, captured their work perfectly with a simple sentence: “We’re cell farmers.”

“We grow certain types of cells, which are genetically engineered to manufacture proteins and then we purify these proteins,” Dorgan explains. “Those proteins end up going into patients who have serious illnesses.”

A senior manager in manufacturing at Amgen, Dorgan leads a team that is accountable for bringing different products and technologies into the facility to make it quicker and easier for patients to access medicines by ensuring supply. ABE spoke to Dorgan about his educational path, early career, and advice to students who might be interested in biotechnology.

ABE Classroom Impact 

How did you first become interested in science?
As a kid, I enjoyed earth science and biology, especially some of the hands-on, small experiments I was able to do in middle and high school. When I had to choose a major in college, I thought “I like science,” so I chose biology as my career path.
Do you remember any of those experiments specifically?
I remember doing one experiment where we were given a mystery solution and, using science, we had to figure out what the solution consisted of. So, we tested different boiling points of that particular solution. It was really the investigation piece and the scientific method that interested me, and how you can use those skills for problem solving in a variety of settings.
Was biotech manufacturing on your radar in high school?
If you had asked me in elementary school or high school, or even early in college, what manufacturing was, I would have maybe thought of an assembly line at a plant or a chemical plant. What was really eye opening for me was the ability to use biological processes to make medicine for patients who need it. I always associated the medical field with doctors and hospitals, not necessarily the R&D and what goes into making the life-altering medicines that various companies make.
What was your educational path after high school?
I went to Keene State College in New Hampshire. I actually enjoyed coaching and teaching, and my original career path was that I was going to be a high school science and math teacher.
What changed?

As I got more and more into the process, I found I still enjoyed the teaching and coaching aspect—and I still coach to this day different sports teams—but the hands-on nature of science and problem solving was really what excited me, so I decided to go down that career path and, eventually, that led me to Amgen.

I did a little bit of student teaching when I got out of undergraduate. About 6 months after I graduated, a new facility opened near me, which was operated by Wyeth, and they hired me. Two acquisitions later, I became an employee at Amgen. I have been here since the fall of 2000.

What do you think is important for high school students interested in science?
I wish I had been able to see in high school how science can be applied not only to the medical field but also to areas like biotechnology and environmental science. There are a lot of things being done to use organisms to clean up pollution, for example. I think that really gives students a flavor for how science is all around them every day. For me as a kid, science was always someone in a lab coat with glasses on doing experiments. I had no idea there were so many different opportunities in the realm of science.
What was your first job like?
I interviewed and ultimately got the job in manufacturing, again because I like the hands-on experience. I really had no idea, to be honest, what biological engineering consisted of. So I worked on the floor in the purification department, where we purify different proteins depending on what product we’re manufacturing. That really got me excited. I am still in manufacturing to this day, though I have a slightly different role. I have done five or six different roles, all within manufacturing over my career. In manufacturing, you can see at the end of the day where all your work benefits patients because of the medicine that we make.
What do you like most about your job?
Even though I’ve always been in manufacturing, there is always a new challenge that arises, so I have never felt stale in my role. It’s such a diverse environment, which keeps it fresh for me even though I have already been here 19 years.
What are some challenges in your role?
Amgen as a whole has really made sharing and learning a focus across multiple departments and sites. But when you are looking at a broad spectrum of people all working on different initiatives in a big company, it can be a challenge to harness everyone to embrace a new idea or direction.
What are some areas students might want to explore within biotechnology?
The trades are heavily underutilized, and that will continue to be a need in biotechnology. I was at a local high school and called over a few students to the Amgen table and they said “We’re not good in science so we didn’t think this was for us.” I then explained that if our equipment breaks down and the mechanics can’t fix it or we don’t have the part for it, then it doesn’t matter if you have 15 scientists with PhDs; we’re all sitting there waiting. That’s an untapped resource. We need electricians, we need mechanics, we need people who can troubleshoot and operate the equipment. It’s a tremendous need not just at our facility but for any company that manufactures. The people who both operate and also keep the equipment running are the backbone of manufacturing facilities.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t think you can overstate the importance of how critical, even in elementary and early middle school, your teachers can be. For me, it was my teachers who made the connection between the classes and life outside school. My mother is a teacher, so I know the planning and effort that goes into it. So to my teachers and all the teachers out there: Thank you for all your work. I wouldn’t be sitting in office right now chatting with you as a member of Amgen without them.