Graduate studies scholars present findings to Vertex Pharmaceuticals

vertex-12914Two of OHSU's brightest graduate studies students recently traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to get a firsthand account of what life is like at a major pharmaceutical company. Ph.D. candidates Melanie Pina and Cristina Butterfield, both OHSU Vertex Scholars, accompanied Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate studies and professor of medicine, on the trip to Cambridge, home of Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

"Vertex scholarships are awarded to our very best Ph.D. students, like Melanie and Cristina," said Dr. Fryer. "Our past and present Vertex Scholars are smart, creative scientists, well on their way to completing their dissertation research, and who can articulate their science and represent our OHSU programs."

Traveling to Vertex, a company with a market capitalization of more than $7.2 billion, offered the students the opportunity to learn about the pharmaceutical industry first hand. They were able to meet scientists dedicated to finding new cures for disease, and talk with industrial chemists about the challenges of not only creating new compounds but scaling production to efficiently generate kilos vs grams. They also visited biological labs where assay plates were managed by robots, something every student who has pipetted 96 wells by hand can immediately appreciate. The trip culminated with a presentation of their science to Vertex scientists and dinner for additional conversations.

"Participating in Vertex day further solidified my decision to work towards an industry job because I saw how valued and essential an individual's original scientific contribution was to the organization and the success of the project," said Butterfield.

"In talking with Vertex employees, I was intrigued to learn that Vertex is not an isolated environment, but has extensive collaborations with academic laboratories and nonprofit disease foundations," said Pina. "This is just one example of how the visit to Vertex helped to clarify some of the misconceptions I held about pharmaceutical companies."

Vertex is committed to the discovery and development of breakthrough small-molecule drugs for serious diseases. Its current product pipeline is focused on viral diseases, cystic fibrosis, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, epilepsy, cancer and pain. The company co-discovered the HIV protease inhibitor, Lexiva®, with GlaxoSmithKline.

The OHSU-Vertex Educational Partnership Program, established in 2007, offers $35,000 scholarships funded by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass. Each award funds a student's stipend and fees for one year.


Pictured (from left) Arpita Maiti, Ph.D., director of Vertex Scholars Program, Cristina Butterfield, Melanie Pina, Allison Fryer, Ph.D.