When it comes to quality control managers and investigation specialists at Bristol Myers Squibb, our colleagues’ backgrounds are interesting and diverse, and many of them were not planning on a career in cell therapy. But once introduced to the manufacturing, quality and investigative aspects of cell therapy, many have found rewarding employee experiences here. Cell therapy is one of the most groundbreaking forms of cancer treatment being studied today and is still in its infancy. But with BMS’ continued investment in our cell therapy capabilities, the growth potential of this science, your career and the ability to help patients are unlimited.
Zach Neidich, Senior Specialist, Investigations, and Cheryl Dennis, Senior Manager, Quality Control Compliance, are two colleagues who discovered careers in this cutting-edge field, with Zach working out of our Devens, MA location, and Cheryl at our Summit, NJ facility.
Where Science and Manufacturing Come Together
After graduating with a BA in Biology and working through her master’s in microbiology, Cheryl landed a position with a contract manufacturer working with several biopharma companies. “Working with a range of large pharma companies and expanding my skillset allowed me to see the bigger picture,” she said, “and taking the best from each of those experiences made me better at what I do.”
Like many undergraduates, Zach’s career vision took shape as he worked through his interest in chemistry, engineering and problem solving in general. “I began to realize that I liked more of the pharma aspects of my chemical engineering degree,” he said. “My undergrad research involved a new treatment for melanoma, and that combination of science and engineering for cancer treatment really inspired me to explore careers in biopharma.”
Curiosity and Cross-Functional Backgrounds Pay Off
Both Zach and Cheryl point to backgrounds that involved interests in processes and focusing on the significance of quality in the pharmaceutical manufacturing operation. This is especially important when it comes to cell therapy – an immunotherapy process that reprograms a patient’s own cells to recognize and attack cancer.
“An internship really opened my eyes to how cross-functional an investigation can be,” said Zach. “After a little over a year at BMS, I’ve been able to understand the implications of the compliance and quality aspects of my job.”
Cheryl weighed in on the 360 aspects of what it takes to be exceptional in her role. “Helping people understand the big picture,” she said. “But always examining what we are doing and asking, ‘how can I make this process better?’ Then sharing those learnings with your colleagues, building on their skill sets – all that makes for a successful quality control manager.”
Bring the Fundamentals but the Learning Never Stops
Whether in an investigation position like Zach or quality control like Cheryl, the importance of cross-functional teamwork again comes up. “Whenever we conduct an investigation,” Zach said, “we always bring our quality assurance partners with us to ensure everything we’re doing is compliant.”
“Investigations involve people on my team who have worked in the lab and in quality assurance,” Cheryl said. “One has to be very detail-oriented to make the connection between an incident and the available data.”
That said, what makes a good candidate for one of these roles? Cheryl weighed in having just hired for two open roles recently. “Finding people with the basics – familiarity of good manufacturing practices and standard operating procedures – that’s not that difficult. But I look at how people fit into my team. That, along with innovation and passion; those are the BMS values that I Iook for.”
Zach concurred. “Regardless of your background, there’s a huge learning curve for anyone entering cell therapy,” he said. “But it’s important to feel confident in managing projects, meeting timelines, working cross-functionally, and a plus is a familiarity with DMAIC principles: define, measure, analyze, improve and control.”
A Passion Among our People to do Transformative Work
The passion that Cheryl mentioned comes through in every aspect of the work, from leadership on down, which brings an entirely different and communal feel among BMS colleagues. “I attended a BMS town hall meeting during my first month here,” she shared. “A patient was introduced who had received our drug just a few months earlier – and I was sold. I said to myself, ‘this is where I’m going to retire from.’ I knew I was in the right place.”
"Working in cell therapy has profound meaning to us all," added Zach. "Every lot we produce is medicine that’s specific to that one patient. Everyone realizes the urgency and accountability. It’s something I see and experience daily.”
Vertical, Lateral and Cross-Functional Growth Make Strong Teams
Management support for career growth opportunities is a constant at BMS and often presents itself in ways that might be outside the usual avenues. These opportunities could be promotional or even exploring a new and different area. Zach shared a few examples.
“We have a recent transfer to our team from biologics,” he said. “Another person from our team transferred to our facility in The Netherlands. One of my managers is out on leave right now, so I am the interim lead for one of our specialized teams. Taking on that added responsibility and gaining experience is awesome.”
Developing Professionally and Personally
Sometimes those opportunities involve collaboration with BMS teams around the world. “One of my site-specific roles is working in the Quality Control (QC) lab,” Cheryl said. “But I've recently worked with global QC folks on a project. Maybe in the future I’d want to pursue a more global role, or move from QC to quality assurance, or quality systems. There are so many different directions. That’s what it’s like in cell therapy: lots of room and options for growth.”
Both colleagues also have opportunities to give back, whether it’s Cheryl’s training as a volunteer BMS mental health ally to support fellow colleagues or Zach’s work attending college fairs to offer career advice to the next generation of scientists-to-be. Along with BMS’ People Business Resource Groups which are open to every employee, to the Total Rewards compensation packages, you’ll find a work environment that, in Cheryl’s words, “shows that BMS really cares about your development, outside of the expected.”