Bayer Corporation vs Natco
Pharma Ltd. A
controversial case for many reasons but one that piqued my interest in the
importance of bioprocessing. It was on the 19th of March 2012 that I was going
through an article from a scientific magazine. The Indian Government had
granted its first compulsory license against Bayer’s patent on Nexavar, an
anticancer drug, to Natco Pharma Ltd., an Indian generic drug company.  Although, the focal point of this case was
the issue of compulsory licensing, it led me to thinking about how the same
product can be manufactured in multiple ways, thus altering consequences like
cost of manufacturing, pricing and accessibility. As an amateur
Biotechnologist, I explored these
aspects further and realized the impact of how innovative technologies can help
us achieve these objectives, and this is where my fascination with the field of
Bioprocess Engineering started.

Biology
has always been my subject of interest. Back in college, I vividly remember attending
a seminar on the recent advances in biotechnology and bioprocessing. The
professor mentioned about concepts and technologies that simply blew my mind. To
be honest, not that I really understood the ideas he put forth, because it all
seemed so impossible to me. It only made me more curious to explore the
processes that we generally consider mundane, at a cellular level. This
propelled me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology.

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As
a Biotechnology undergraduate at Savitribai Phule Pune University (formerly
University of Pune), I believe the course work has provided me with a solid
foundation in science as well as engineering related subjects and various mathematical
concepts. Courses like Applied Chemistry and Biochemistry have helped me gain good
knowledge about biomolecules, their importance in metabolic and biological
processes, functions and their interactions with other molecules. The practical
sessions from Microbiology have equipped me in handling microbial cultures.
Fermentation Technology, Reaction and Biochemical Engineering have provided a
profound knowledge about upstream processing and courses on Bioseparations have
given an insight about downstream processing. I was introduced to chemical
engineering concepts required in designing a bioprocess in courses like Fluid
Flow & Unit Operations, Heat & Mass Transfer, Stoichiometry and Thermodynamics.
Bioprocess Equipment Design and Plant engineering & Project Costing familiarized
me to the model of design criteria for manufacturing quality product. I am also
convinced that I have successfully implemented my theoretical knowledge in a
laboratory environment, as exemplified by the fact that I have received
excellent grades in the Instrumentation & Process Control and Bioprocess
Modelling & Simulation lab. In my opinion, my undergraduate course has
prepared me in all aspects to pursue a master’s degree in Biological &
Agricultural Engineering with a major focus in Bioprocessing and Bioproducts
Engineering.

Further,
I worked on my undergraduate thesis entitled, ‘Bioprospecting for Hydrophobins’
under the direction of Asst. Prof. Shraddha Kulkarni. Hydrophobins are small
cysteine rich surface active proteins produced by filamentous fungi, having a
plethora of applications in the food and health care industry, due to their
ability to self-assemble into amphipathic membranes at an interface. The
objective of my research was to isolate and identify hydrophobin producing
fungal strains from waste samples of malt processing industry Barmalt Malting
India Pvt. Ltd. Further I worked on the development and optimization of a
bioprocess for the production of hydrophobins from isolated GRAS clearing
fungal strains. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to present my results at
two international conferences. The experience of conducting a research thrilled
me so much that I would often wait back after classes, especially to see my
results. Also, I engaged myself in reading journals and monthly magazines to
explore exciting opportunities in research and upcoming technologies in the
development and manufacture of bioproducts. This eventually burgeoned my interested
in the subject.

My
propensity for applied learning resulted in my fifteen days training at APT
Research Foundation (formerly National Toxicology Centre) under the guidance of
Dr. Kishori Apte, during our semester break. Here I was intensively explained
and demonstrated various in-vivo and in-vitro toxicity tests performed in the
laboratory, as per the OECD guidelines. This gave me an insight about the drug
development process: design of preclinical studies, which also helped me in
understanding some basic concepts from a final year course: Biotherapeutics
Technology.

Seminars
and presentations were always an integral part of my undergraduate coursework. I
had presented a seminar on ‘Anticancer Drugs from Marine Source’, in my third
year, with a thorough literature review about the FDA approved

 

anticancer
drugs and potential drugs in clinical and preclinical pipeline, their source,
biosynthesis and mode of action. In my final year, impressed by my presentation
skills, one of my professors gave me the privilege to conduct a session in a
juniors’ class on ‘Embryonic Stem Cells and Clinical Applications’.

In
order to maintain a high regard for an all-round development of my personality,
apart from academics I encouraged myself to participate in extra-curricular
activities during my undergraduate studies. I have served as a college
representative for inter-college swimming competitions, official campus
photographer for cultural fests, photographer for the department’s newsletter
and member of the organizing committee for technical fests. I have also been
associated with CRY since 2016, which is an NGO in India working towards the
upliftment of underprivileged children and was awarded in 2017 as the ‘Best
Debut- Female Volunteer’ for my contribution in Pune’s Public Action Group
(PAG).

After
the completion of my undergraduate degree, my inclination towards bioprocessing
strengthened when I had the fortunate opportunity of being selected for the competitive
Biotech Industrial Training Programme 2016-17 at Praj Matrix – R&D Centre
(Division of Praj Industries Ltd.) Pune. The training was sponsored by the
Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India. I worked under the guidance of Dr.
Yasmin Mirza. The emphasis of my individual project was to improve bacteriocin
production by inducing UV mutation in Bacillus
amyloliquefaciens. The training introduced me to the exciting nature of
working in an industrial-level research laboratory. Upon the completion of my
training I was absorbed by the company and I am currently working here as a Biotechnologist.
Praj is one of the most successful companies in India in the field of bio-based
technologies and engineering, a supplier of ethanol plants and provider of
sustainable solutions for bioenergy, bioproducts, breweries and industrial
wastewater treatment. I am currently working on the fermentative production of an
antimicrobial peptide (AMP), the company’s in-house product, produced from a
bacterial source. The AMP due to its significant antimicrobial activity against
pathogenic micro-organisms can be used in food preservation and health care
products.

Looking
at some of the examples in the past, from the large scale production of bulk
products to small and controlled production of high value products, it is
evident that bioprocessing has entered major bio-based sectors and improved
them. Moreover, today the bioprocess industry is facing some bottlenecks that
gives a tremendous scope for research and innovation in this area. One common
bottleneck is experienced while expanding from pilot to manufacturing scale,
every step requires new controls for effective productivity. Another challenge
is to find new ways to increase productivity, reduce costs while still
ultimately developing new technologies that enhance human life. With a graduate
degree in this field I wish to expand the horizons of my skills so as to be
able to solve these challenging real world problems.

In
accordance with my current research interests, I think that
the Biological & Agricultural Engineering Program with a major focus in
Bioprocessing & Bioproducts Engineering at Washington State University is
ideal for what I would like to study. I am particularly interested in working
in the Bioprocessing & Bioproducts Engineering Laboratory and the research
of Dr. Shulin Chen, Dr. Birgitte K. Ahring and Dr. Garcia-Pérez. Definitely, my
interest in this program is also substantiated by the university’s excellence
in Biological Systems Engineering research and collaboration. I am confident
that the program will augment my abilities to integrate my technical knowledge
with practical applications.

After
completing the graduate program, I hope to obtain a doctoral position at an
institute specifically examining bioprocess engineering and create effective
solutions to practical problems.  I then
hope to obtain a virtuous position in the industry, with an aim to develop
robust revenue-saving manufacturing processes for bioproducts beneficial to
mankind.

To
put in a nutshell, I would regard my admission to Washington State University as
a matter of great honor. I am passionate to pursue this program with utmost
sincerity.