A Dive into Industry Research

Annie Xia, COL ’25, Cincinnati, OH

Throughout my time at Penn, I’ve always looked to expand my understanding of various fields within the scope of biomedical research. In the last few years of undergrad, having experiences working in both basic and translational research labs – ranging across areas like immunology, hematology, microbiology, and pediatric oncology – has indeed been incredibly rewarding. For one, working in academic-oriented research motivates you to focus on a particular area of expertise, and continue narrowing into projects to (hopefully!) bring such work to larger platforms – take publications or conferences.

For this summer, though, I took a leap of faith. At the Penn Biosciences Career Fair, I was like any other student curious about different opportunities in biology, browsing tables chock-full with goodies and interest forms. It was here that I ran into a booth at the corner of the room, sponsored by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Representatives, decked out in merch, busily gesticulated while explaining their intern and co-op program to long lines of interested students. I approached, and in less than five minutes, I was signed up on a clipboard, handed a flyer and branded pen, and told to apply for the program once the application was to be released the next week. It stayed in my mind from then on, and by late August, I started writing a cover letter.

In the past, I’d heard of people throwing around the terms ‘biotech’ and ‘big pharma’, and to be quite honest, I didn’t know the differences between them at first. A part of me wanted to keep working on the research I’d already started in the school year; full-time commitment in academia over twelve weeks would no doubt accelerate that project. But another part of me was curious: what really was this thing called ‘industry research’? What was the big deal about pharmaceutical companies, besides the fact that they made medicines? What about the research done there was different from anything I’d done before?

After undergoing the recruiting process, in December I decided to join the Inflammation and Immune Diseases department as a research intern, under Therapeutic Focus Areas for target discovery. This summer was incredible: I learned so much about the style of thinking involved with moving drug targets forward in the pipeline, and familiarized myself with the fast-paced, high-output environment in pharma. My work specifically surrounded performing transfections to identify potent guide RNAs – in the context of CRISPR-Cas9 editing – to knock down target cytokines, and transducing cell lines with lentiviruses packaged with such sgRNAs for protein-level knockdown. As someone who loves both immunology and CRISPR as a tool itself, I loved the work I did. In a matter of weeks, I started gaining greater confidence in designing experiments from start to finish; in adjusting conditions when experiment timelines run into issue; in optimizing and troubleshooting when necessary. Skill-wise, I expanded proficiency in an array of techniques, beyond cell culture: flow cytometry, high-throughput RNA extractions, Taqman RT-qPCR, cDNA generation, lentiviral transduction, ELISA, western blot, the list goes on. Listening in on patient stories, department meetings, and talks by senior scientists and industry leaders – such as Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, pioneer of CRISPR editing and founder of Intellia – helped me envision a potential future working in pharmaceutical research. I’d always wanted to harness advances in biology to develop therapeutics for diseases, in addition to practicing medicine, and hearing from real users of drugs like DUPIXENT (hailing from our department!) and EYLEA was so inspiring.

I plan on returning to Regeneron next summer to continue my project, as my eyes were opened to an entirely new avenue of medical research. I’m thankful for Penn Career Services’ support in pursuing this endeavor, and as a Regeneron Campus Ambassador for the upcoming school year, I hope to bring this opportunity to others as well!

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services