By: Shawn Rumrill
The biotechnology business is booming and you’re looking to get in on the ground floor, so now what? With broad applications, the biotechnology field is inclusive of disciplines such as engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry, translational medicine, and others. For those of us that aren’t repelled by the prospects of working in the aforementioned areas, the next step is to learn what it’s like to be a working professional in biotechnology. And what’s a better way to accomplish that than a virtual site visit with PTC Therapeutics?
Founded in 1998, PTC Therapeutics is truly a global human-centric biotechnology and biopharmaceutical company. With a focus on rare disease patients, PTC maintains a wide portfolio of therapeutics including Emflaza for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Evrysdi for Spinal muscular atrophy, and Upstaza for AADC deficiency. Rare diseases affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. as defined by the NIH. Because of this, developing therapeutics to treat these patients is often overlooked.
Introducing attendees to PTC Therapeutics was Samira Patel. Samira, a Senior Manager and HR Business Partner, started her journey with PTC in December of 2020. She began the event with a short video entitled “A world of possibilities…”. This is the mindset that PTC uses as their foundation. While many biotechnology companies share their passion for treating conditions of human health and disease, PTC just has an indescribable and unique connection to the cause and feels especially sincere in their message. For PTC, a world of possibilities means “innovation and treatment… for the community, me, the world, and the future.” This dedication and emotional connection to the work done at PTC was strongly reflected by the panel of PTC speakers:
- Monal Dietrich, PhD: a Rutgers alumnus and Scientist I with a focus in neuroscience at PTC since April 2021 in their Mountain View, CA location.
- Christopher Rathnam, PhD: a Rutgers alumnus – began at PTC in October 2021 helping to develop gene therapies in the Bridgewater, NJ location.
- David Compton, PhD: Director of Toxicology for gene therapy coming to PTC in August 2020.
- Marla Weetall, PhD: Sr. Vice President, Pharmacology and Biomarkers and long-time PTC team member, beginning in October 2002.
Before getting into the nitty gritty details of the PTC experience, Samira and the panelists wanted to lay some ground rules, a.k.a. what PTC expects from its employees. To promote their “world of possibilities…” mindset, PTC expects their employees to be passionate, bold, inclusive, trustworthy, kind, and work together as one PTC to be “ever better.” At PTC, there is even an unofficial “no A***oles” policy! This culture of comradery and striving to do better for the people whose lives are altered by rare diseases was again well-reflected in each of the subsequent questions posed to the panel.
Of course, when speaking to a Zoom room filled largely with rabid graduate students on the hunt for a job (among junior graduates and postdocs), the first question was why PTC and what was the application process like? For the younger panelists, it was clear they intended to pursue industry careers and across the board, all the panelists fell in love with PTC, their mission, company, and culture. Monal described it as “the best blend of staying close to science, having scientific freedom, and having stability.” For David and Marla, the reasons were more practical, but the allure was the same; finances and life in general drew them to PTC therapeutics. For many of us, financial stability, the notoriously higher pay found in industry, as well as life circumstances can drive our geographic location and professional pursuits. Though, it doesn’t always pan out as expected, the group all found commonality in that PTC is able to support both their personal and professional criteria for work.
One thing to note about PTC and their application process is that they like to move fast! For Chris, his interview process began with a commonplace phone interview. From there, he was launched warp speed into a full day of interviews complete with his own special seminar (which is expected of all PhD-holding applicants). Assuming all that goes well, applicants move on to individual 1-on-1 meetings with prospective managers, team members, and VPs. This step is where Monal and Chris said they connected really well with their different teams and knew they were in the right place. In General, both felt that they got on well with their prospective teammates, had culture and values that aligned with those of PTC, and believed they could learn and grow as professionals while maintaining a good work/life balance.
Great — you’ve landed the job at PTC, but what is it like to work there? For David and Marla, their roles look very different than Monal’s and Chris’. At the upper echelons of management, Marla oversees preclinical pharmacology studies for 20 programs at any given time. As David describes it: the higher up you go in a company, the more you are learning what the company needs you to learn to support a variety of pipelines and initiatives. Contrast this with Monal and Chris, whose jobs require more time at the bench developing new assays, technologies, and ideas for various gene therapy or neuroscience pipelines. Much of Monal and Chris’ day also involves keeping up to date with the rapidly expanding field, and meeting with different teams to overcome key challenges. Monal described the atmosphere as somewhat academic with lots of collaboration and cross-disciplinary activities.
An especially important note that came up is the work/life balance at PTC. As a mid-sized biotechnology company, David says PTC readily recognizes their teams and individuals. He even described “goodies” and “monetary awards” with Samira excitedly grinning in her camera feed. According to Monal and Chris, managers at PTC are very flexible. For Chris, he prefers to work 8 AM – 4 PM with the occasional weekend. Monal also must work occasional weekends to support tissue culture experiments, but said her team takes different shifts and responsibilities as needed to accommodate everyone’s different schedules and important life events. Overall, all the panelists agreed that at PTC, people help each other and as a team, they can better manage their workloads and promote an inclusive and flexible work environment.
One last practical question, posed by Janet Alder, Assistant Dean for Graduate Academic and Student Affairs at Rutgers, was “what makes an applicant pop for you?” As the most senior person on the panel, Marla said publications and specific skills matter — candidates need to be able to do the job they are hired for and demonstrate commitment. However, the caveat, Marla mentioned, is that skills only become an important factor at higher levels when a specialized role is needed. Samira and the remaining panelists echoed the sentiment that PTC is really looking for good candidates — those who are good people, team players, and worth taking a chance on. At the end of the day, it matters less exactly who you worked for or what your specific project was as a PhD candidate than what you can offer PTC after they invest in you. Technical skills can always be learned on the fly as needed, but a passionate, collaborative, and friendly demeanor takes time to develop!
As the panel wrapped up, I asked one last question: What is your least favorite thing about PTC? Perhaps the question was poorly posed, or everyone really enjoys working at PTC, because you could hear a pin drop on that call! After several moments of awkward silence, Samira chimed in that the meetings could be overwhelming — but that is true in most businesses, especially with it being so easy to “Zoom” from one meeting to the next, both literally and figuratively.
iJOBS site visits are a great way to learn more about working in a particular industry, role, or company. Four out of four panelists agree that PTC Therapeutics is a great place to work if you are passionate about cell and gene therapy for rare diseases, and willing to bring your best to an innovative, collaborative, and amazing team of individuals. Be sure to check out career opportunities at PTC and keep up with iJOBS and the iJOBS Blog for more site visits!
This article was edited by Junior Editor Gina Sanchez and Senior Editor Natalie Losada.
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January 12, 2024