Looking to assist local universities to continue aligning their curriculums with the needs of the biotechnology sector, pharmaceutical giant Amgen has teamed up with the University of Puerto Rico and private universities to launch its BioTALENTS program.
The initiative will benefit 180 engineering, biology and chemistry students who will have the opportunity to receive hands-on, specialized biomanufacturing training. This new science education initiative is possible through a $337,000 Amgen Foundation grant that will be bestowed to the UPR over three years, Amgen and UPR officials said last week.
“We are proud to announce this innovative biomanufacturing training program, which seeks to strengthen our educational and research areas,” said UPR President Miguel Muñoz, during a news conference held at his Jardín Botánico office. “This initiative provides our students with the opportunity to access hands on experiences beyond the classroom, including day-to-day activities performed in the industry.”
The program officially began last month, when the UPR opened the application cycle that closes next week. The first group of students will begin their 30 hours of practical experience in March.
“This is very important for the UPR, as we’re forming the best professionals this island needs and we want them to have this practical experience so they are well-prepared when they arrive to the labor market,” Muñoz said.
This program will target areas that are not part of the student’s regular undergraduate curricula, including: overview of biomanufacturing, quality control, clean room activities, validation, large-scale fermentation and purification of recombinant proteins. The objective is to strengthen undergraduate education in biomanufacturing and inspire students to pursue careers in scientific fields.
The program’s objectives will be reached by having students working in interdisciplinary teams that will mimic an industrial environment, something Prof. Rosa Buxeda, BioTalents program coordinator, said “is very rare, because it is not often that a student’s curriculum gives them the opportunity to work with professors from different faculties teaching them at once.”
Students will receive a $400 stipend after successfully completing the training.
“This is an excellent opportunity for Puerto Rican college students to enhance their knowledge in biotechnology and science in general,” said Esteban Santos, Amgen’s vice president of Puerto Rico Operations. “Developing talent through these collaborations help Puerto Rico in general and keep us competitive as a jurisdiction in an area that attracts a lot of investment.”
Nearly a decade of local philanthropy
This new initiative operating out of the UPR is just one of many the Amgen Foundation has supported since 2003, donating close to $1 million for different projects launched at several campuses. That year, the nonprofit approved a $300,000 donation in cash and equipment, which the UPR Mayagüez used to develop a biotech training center in 2003.
Amgen — whose operation in Juncos employs about 2,000 people — took out its wallet again the following year, granting $433,000 to the UPR’s Humacao campus for its own biotech research center.
Those donations are on top of what the Amgen Foundation has assigned since 2004 for teacher and student internships and trainings islandwide, Santos said.