This past Spring 2015 semester I had the opportunity to conduct a co-op experience at Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Cheshire, CT. Alexion is a global pharmaceutical company that works on developing therapies for patients with life-threatening rare diseases. Alexion is best known for their therapeutic Soliris® (eculizumab), for the treatment of patients with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS).
I worked in Product Characterization, where I learned about the assays and instruments used to characterize the therapeutics in the pipeline of the company. I independently worked on several projects, including the optimization of OFFGEL fractionation and further purification of fractions using weak anion exchange chromatography to support charge variant characterization of a recombinant monoclonal antibody (mAb). I also worked to determine optimal assay conditions to reduce deamidation of antibodies caused by sample preparation for peptide mapping mass spectrometry analysis. Thirdly, I identified RP-UPLC mobile phases and a column suitable for a platform mAb LC-UV and LC-MS peptide mapping assay. In addition, I worked on mapping susceptible glycation sites on two therapeutic mAbs. I learned many new laboratory techniques such as IEF, OFFGEL fractionation, RP-HPLC/UPLC, WAX, enzymatic digestion for peptide mapping, and was exposed to many more methods and instruments such as WCX, mass spectrometry for peptide mapping and intact analysis, N-terminal Sequencing, Caliper LoC, and Surface Plasmon Resonance (Biacore). In addition to assisting and learning analytical chemistry techniques from scientists, I had the opportunity to contribute to the research and writing of a couple of papers for potential publication.
My co-op experience was extended through the summer, so in total I worked eight months in Product Characterization at Alexion Pharmaceuticals. During this time I gained a clear understanding of what a career in the pharmaceutical industry entails, and I was able to complete several projects. I feel that I learned more and was able to contribute to the company more than if I had only conducted a summer internship. I was also given the opportunity to spend a couple days exploring different groups at the company, such as Process Development, Molecular Sciences, Upstream Development, and Biomarkers. I gained a comprehensive understanding of the roles of the different groups in the company and how they support each other in the process of developing a potential therapeutic. I would highly recommend other students to pursue co-op opportunities if possible, as a co-op in a student’s field of interest will prove to be a valuable learning experience.