May / June 2019

Hiking Boots & Molecules

Hiking Boots and Molecules

Young Professional Brita Salzmann, a Process Engineer with CRB and member of the ISPE Greater Los Angeles Chapter, loves the challenge of backpacking. She continues to add to her hiking resume, which includes treks across segments of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, 14,000-foot-high peaks in Colorado, and national parks throughout the West. For Salzmann, the allure of the outdoors is multifaceted: “You must be present to enjoy the beautiful experience. You rely on what you can carry and work as a team, which makes you self-sufficient and collaborative.”

The winding paths and changing conditions that hikers face provide a fitting metaphor for Salzmann’s professional journey. The steps on Salzmann’s path have been varied, and this diversity of experience equips her with dynamic perspectives on the constantly evolving landscape of the biopharma industry. Good planning, effective preparation, and reliable mentors have helped her tackle challenging terrain with measured confidence, which she has coupled with an enthusiastic drive to discover what lies around the next switchback.

You cannot expect to be an expert on day one, but you can jump feet first into new challenges and not be afraid to ask questions.

Choosing Engineering

Salzmann’s academic experience has been an evolving journey. “High school teachers encouraged me to apply to an engineering school because I was good in math and science. I didn’t know what engineering entailed, but I applied and happily got accepted. I was eager to start figuring it out at the University of Colorado at Boulder as open option engineering. Initially I had a closed mind on chemical engineering because it sounded really hard.” But Salzmann ended up changing her mind. “I discovered in my freshman engineering chemistry and biology classes that I am fascinated with molecular-level thinking—with how the world is built.” She was a founding member of the ISPE Student Chapter at the University of Colorado during her junior year, and she took a leadership role as Chapter President one year later. “ISPE fostered my networking skills and technical growth. I was fortunate to attend the 2014 ISPE Annual Meeting & Expo, where I met people passionate about pharmaceuticals who enjoyed sharing that with the community.”

Salzmann’s fascination with “how the world is built” is evident in both her enjoyment of the outdoors and her career as a process engineer. The beauty and wonders of landscapes, and the interplay of their inhabitants, inspire her excitement to understand the architecture of natural ecosystems. In a similar way, Salzmann’s job also entails the exploration of complex environments. In a recent project, for example, she worked on establishing a basis of design for a clinical-stage cell therapy biopharmaceutical company. This entailed evaluating, expanding, and relocating operations to a new facility, along with defining the process and developing a manufacturing layout. Design needs included flexible manufacturing capability for clinical and commercial production. The project required a detailed coordination effort—the development, in a sense, of a small ecosystem.

Salzmann credits her internship experiences for significantly influencing her professional growth. “I found great value in two diversified internships. One was in a lab at a small oligonucleotide start-up. It was a great hands-on experience with downstream equipment, including packing chromatography columns and operating the ultrafiltration/diafiltration unit. The other was at a large food production facility, where I worked in quality and collaborated with disciplines across the factory floor. These two experiences helped me define what I wanted to do when I graduated.”

Brita Salzmann
Brita Salzmann

Industry Evolution

A true growth mindset requires an openness to change, and Salzmann brings this outlook as she considers the evolution of the biopharma industry. “When I was an undergrad, the focus of the chemical and biological engineering senior projects was monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Since then, I have seen a shift in the industry focus toward advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs),” she stated. “I am seeing an increased demand to understand the growing cell and gene therapy markets. In 2016 the ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Conference was promoting continuous mAb production, and in 2018 the emphasis was on ATMPs. I am excited to be part of the future of biotech.” She mentioned a few elements of this future: closing the process for autologous therapies, increasing automation to replace operator-centric design, and detecting virus or viral vector presence. These are a few key factors, Salzmann explained, to minimize operational costs and meet patient demand.

Like any wise hiker, Salzmann knows that the right traveling companions can enrich the journey. When asked what advice she would share with fellow Young Professionals, Salzmann emphasized how much she appreciates influential mentors and effective networking. “Find a mentor you can learn from technically and who will guide you professionally. I am fortunate to have an awesome mentor at CRB, but I also have a large support group outside of my official mentorship. I started to reach out to experienced process engineers across the company for a one-on-one chat about success. A common theme was being open and speaking up. You cannot expect to be an expert on day one, but you can jump feet first into new challenges and not be afraid to ask questions.”

ISPE continues to play an important role in Salzmann’s professional development. “Almost four years out of school, I still run into people that I met during my Student Chapter years. I’m now involved in the Los Angeles Chapter and recently attended the ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Conference, where I met inspiring Young Professionals. I cannot wait to see what ISPE and Women in Pharma® have in store for the future.”

California seems like an ideal place for Salzmann and other Young Professionals. She described it as a biotech hotspot. “In Los Angeles specifically, I’m seeing an increase in start-up companies and new initiatives to promote life sciences locally. There are a handful of exciting new cell and gene therapy companies in California that prove the area will be a destination in biotech for years to come.”

Of course, proximity to phenomenal hiking doesn’t hurt, either.