HigherHeight Spotlights Global Biotechnology Research Practices
Barbara Bierer of the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials (MRCT) Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard (far left), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit assistant professor Hailiang Huang (far right) and distinguished research scientist at Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management William Crown (second from right) speaks at one of HigherHeight’s capacity-building sessions on medical biotechnology development.
By Ayesha Nadya Muna
Advances in biotechnology have accelerated more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovative techniques in the field allowed scientists to pioneer vaccines in a matter of months rather than years, bringing biotechnology to the forefront of scientific and technological development. Yet, countries like Indonesia, with great potential for the application of biotechnology, still face challenges in advancing this sector.
In an effort to address such challenges, Pfizer Indonesia, together with the Association of Indonesia’s Biotechnology Program Studies (IPSBI), officiated its biotechnology program HigherHeight for a second year. The program’s grand launching, held on Oct. 14, featured a national seminar with the theme “Turbocharging Indonesia’s Medical Biotech Education.” In his keynote speech, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin reiterated the centrality of human resources for medical biotechnology advancement.
The program is aimed at strengthening the capacity and quality of lecturers and researchers in the field of medical biotechnology. To support this objective, this year’s program consisted of a series of virtual capacity-building sessions with global medical biotechnology experts, during which selected lecturers and researchers received the opportunity to obtain training and knowledge exchange on the development of medical biotechnology.
Biotechnology research practices on a global level
HigherHeight welcomed a line-up of medical biotechnology experts from Pfizer and reputable institutions, including the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard (MRCT Center) and the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School. Hoping to provide inspiration for the development of Indonesia’s biotechnology sector at large, specifically its education curriculum, the medical biotechnology experts provided insights on biotechnology research practices on a global level.
Pfizer brand supply leader Walter Wiering kicked off this year’s training program by sharing insights on the role of demand management in the end-to-end COVID-19 vaccine-supply chain. Having been a part of the COVID-19 vaccine team, Walter explained that in the supply chain’s seven rights policy, demand management was needed to deliver the right product in the right quantity to the right customer at the right time, place, condition and cost.
Alfredo Darmanin Sheehan, an A.R. Fellow at Pfizer Worldwide Research Biomedicine Design (BMD), then touched on the subject of biotherapeutic drug discovery by mentioning the crucial aspects for getting a biotherapeutic drug project off the ground, which includes a drug-ability assessment. Biotherapeutic drug discovery, added Alfredo, was advantageous over a more traditional small molecule approach.
“In general, it has a lot of novel approaches and key advantages in terms of specificity,” said Alfredo in his session.
William Crown, a distinguished research scientist at Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management, added to the discussion by explaining that real-world data (RWD) could be used to support timely research on treatments and patient outcomes in real-world clinical practice. According to Dr. Crown, the amount and complexity of available data in the modern day allowed for previously considered inconceivable research.
In the following session, Hailiang Huang, an assistant professor in the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School elaborated on advancements in genomics and gene sequencing, notably on polygenic disorders. According to Hailiang, genes that have been discovered are being worked on to build a polygenic risk score, which will measure how likely a person will develop a disorder.
“Unfortunately, to date, the polygenic risk score is not extremely accurate, we still feel there are maybe several years or even longer for this to be a tool that has clinical value for doctors to be able to take action on these findings,” said Hailiang.
Though biotechnology research varies and advances through numerous approaches, Barbara Bierer of the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials (MRCT) Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard emphasized in her session that ethics and integrity play an essential role in research as it could reduce the possibility of misconduct in research. Therefore, Barbara emphasized that it was important for institutions to cultivate a culture that valued integrity and develop clear guidelines and policies for research.
During the program’s closing session, Barbara sat down with Hailiang and William for an exclusive Q&A session with the participants, where the topic of biotechnology education curriculum was discussed. Hailiang noted that its education should include a wide range of topics while also delving deep for innovation in areas of given specialties. Barbara concurred, adding that undergraduates should be exposed to many disciplines because it would help later when they become part of a team or pursue graduate school.
Supported by Tenggara Strategics, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Prasetiya Mulya University and The Jakarta Post, HigherHeight ran from Oct. 17 to 28 and welcomed a roster of 29 biotechnology lecturers from 16 universities across Indonesia. The program was conducted virtually against the backdrop of the Indonesian government’s focus to develop its biotechnology sector as a part of its national health system transformation.
This article is written in partnership with Tenggara Strategics.