Sanquin company visit

‘Unexpected career paths disclosed at Sanquin Blood Supply Foundation’

When you think of Sanquin Blood Supply Foundation, you definitely think of blood: Blood supply, transfusion... As regard to professions, nurses, technicians determining blood types and receptionists may come to your mind. What else? Anything interesting for PhDs? On 7 October 2010  PCDI and Amsterdam Biomed Cluster co-organised a company visit to this hybrid organisation (both non-for-profit and for profit) to explore the careers it harbours.

 

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‘Unexpected career paths disclosed at Sanquin Blood Supply Foundation’

Many young scientists like research, there is nothing surprising about that. Coming from academia, having done that for years in preparation of your PhD or as a postdoc, you know the field and you have developed your expertises. As regard to the future, where will you continue your career? The numbers are clear, no more than 10% of the young scientists will eventually make it to a principle investigator in academia. So you’d better have a plan B ready. So if you are among the 90%, does that mean you have to abandon the idea of a career in research? For these kind of questions, the Postdoc Career Development Initiative (PCDI) organizes career events for early career researchers, supporting them to take well-informed decisions on their future.

 

When you think of Sanquin Blood Supply Foundation, you definitely think of blood: Blood supply, transfusion... As regard to professions, nurses, technicians determining blood types and receptionists may come to your mind. What else? Anything interesting for PhDs? On 7 October 2010  PCDI and Amsterdam Biomed Cluster co-organised a company visit to this hybrid organisation (both non-for-profit and for profit) to explore the careers it harbours.


The number of research staff made clear that Sanquin puts a great emphasis on scientific research: about 250 consisting of  ±100 early career researchers, ±100 research technicians and ± 50 senior scientists (tenured staff, principle investigators and professors). Sanquin is more than just blood supply. There are 6 other divisions of which four are of particular interest for those with an interest for scientific research: Sanquin Research, Sanquin Reagents, Sanquin Diagnostic Services and Sanquin Plasma Products.

2010 Sanquin company visitVisits to two of the Sanquin labs show environments very similar to that of academia. Well, perhaps more organised with more and newer machines than some of the participants are used to.

Daphne Thijssen-Timmer, (Manager R&D, Sanquin Cellular Therapy Services) showed examples of research towards the development of new cellular therapies. Sanquin also facilitates academia in providing state-of-the-art cellular product preparations for clinical trials. In contrast to academia, Sanquin’s project plans also includes the establishment of a robust standardized procedure (SOP) for GMP grade products, quality control assays and release procedures in order to obtain nation regulatory approval.

PhDs fulfil important positions in the development of new diagnostic test systems. Roel Melsert (managing director of Sanquin Reagents) explained how these processes are organised: scientists are the project managers in the matrix organisation and cooperate with the departments R&D, marketing, production, quality control, regulatory affairs and intellectual property (IP) in order to develop ideas into deliverable products.

When after years of research a new therapy has been developed and approved, still there is a great number of challenges to deal with in order to make it available to patients. Christine Kramer (Product Manager Sanquin Plasma Products) used the example of a C1 inhibitor treatment for life-threatening hereditary angioedema to explain her work. Whereas this replacement therapy was used in Europe for > 30 years, it was not available in the US until 2008. Only 4 years earlier a small biotech company decided to contact Sanquin Plasma Products to introduce it in the US. Before compounds were approved by the US Food & Drug Administration, additional production procedures, validation studies and even clinical trials were imposed. These demands were solved by Sanquin multiple department interactions. Christine’s work goes on, now focussing on expansion to other countries and product life cycle management.

The final speaker, Diana Wouters (Head Complement Research), demonstrated that hardcore scientific research is also part of Sanquin. Her research is focused on new indications for C1 inhibitors. As the use of plasma derived C1 inhibitor has been proven to be safe, it is particularly interesting to look into its other characteristics. The ability to inhibit contact and complement system could make C1 inhibitors an attractive therapeutic to treat inflammatory disorders like sepsis or organ transplantation rejection. Like researchers in academia, she publishes in peer-reviewed journals and she collaborates with other research groups.

2010 Sanquin company visitAfter the talks, everyone was invited for informal networking with Sanquin people. With some cheese and wine the final questions were asked. Spending an afternoon at this company gave a lot of insight into the activities of Sanquin, an organisation that harbours many interesting research and non-research jobs for PhDs and surely involves more than blood supply alone.