Unique Journey to a Career in Biotech
Taking the Big Picture View and Making Science Real
Michele Suleiman was always a good student and in honors classes. It wasn’t until freshman biology class and the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) with Hugh Nelson at Newbury Park High School that she first started to consider science as a career. “Just learning more about biology in Mr. Nelson’s class and through the ABE program really opened up my eyes to what science could be,” she recalls. “Before that, science was a book; you had to memorize all these facts and diagrams. I didn’t really grasp it until I held a pipette in my hand and put the concepts to work in the ABE labs. That’s when science came to life for me.”
Now a Senior Project Manager in Strategy, Commercialization, and Innovation at Amgen, Suleiman spoke with ABE, reflecting on her scientific path and the different ways people can contribute to science.
Q & A
- Can you tell us a bit about what happened after high school and ABE?
- After high school, I went to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where I majored in microbiology. As part of the major’s requirements, I had to take biochemistry and cell biology classes and labs. It was such a pleasant surprise to see that the same content we went over in ABE was being repeated in my college courses. I had a head start and a much lower learning curve compared to my peers. During my time at UCSD, I also worked at a biotech startup company where I applied my skills running gels and purifying proteins to make some extra money.
- How did you end up working at Amgen?
- After college, it was a huge dream of mine to work for Amgen right away, but that didn’t happen. I’ll never forget the advice one of the recruiters gave me early on. He recommended I get some experience in the industry and find something I’m good at -- become an expert in an area, so I could market myself that way. I spent the next 3 years at a small company doing protein purification and assay development (with tools such as ELISA, Luminex, MSD and FACS). Those skills helped me land a role at Amgen in the Investigative Toxicology group in CBSS. My dream had become a reality.
- How has your position at Amgen changed since that first lab job?
- After awhile, a part of me was looking for the big picture. I enjoyed working in the lab but something was missing -- how did the work I was doing in the lab actually help patients? How am I contributing to developing a drug? The work I was doing was such a small piece in the overall drug development process. I wanted to know more and somehow apply my technical knowledge along the way. I ended up being introduced to project management and joined a group within Process Development. It was a win-win for me because I was able to see the big picture of how drugs were developed, manufactured, and delivered to patients in clinical trials, while also being close to the science. Last year, I took on a new role in Amgen’s Strategy, Commercialization and Innovation group. Again, I wanted to see an even bigger picture approach to how Amgen delivers innovative drugs to patients. I get to see firsthand how the brand, supply, and clinical strategies work together to put the patient first and navigate all the requirements to get a drug approved and sold. It’s not a traditional lab role many think of when they think of Amgen, but the fact that Amgen is such a science-based company ensures that no matter where you are in the business, the science is present. I’m very fortunate to still be close to my roots and initial passion.
- Has anything surprised you in your work?
- When I made the jump to the biotech industry, I was surprised that the same techniques I learned in ABE were being used by R&D scientists. The ABE labs I participated in back in high school weren’t watered down and were the real deal. This made me appreciate ABE even more. I was very fortunate to have this opportunity.
- What advice do you have for ABE students?
- First, take advantage of this opportunity in any way possible. A lot of your peers outside this classroom won’t have this opportunity, which gives you a head start. Second, whether you pursue a career in the sciences or not, use ABE to increase your science literacy and knowledge of the biotech industry. You don’t have to be a scientist to make an impact in the biotech industry. We also need lawyers, accountants, salespeople, statisticians, lobbyists, writers and creatives with a passion to help patients. So don’t get discouraged if science/biology/etc., isn’t your strongest subject. If you’re stronger at math, english, politics, or the arts, it is possible to combine your unique strengths with your new knowledge to contribute.