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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

How Developing Medicine Allows This Scientist to Fulfill a Life-Long Passion

Derek Burton Jr., a manufacturing associate at Biogen
Derek Burton Jr., a manufacturing associate at Biogen.
| Courtesy of Biogen

Growing up, Derek Burton Jr. says he was fascinated in understanding the process behind how things worked—and to teach himself, he voraciously read books in search of every last detail he could find. This childhood curiosity followed Burton Jr. through life and inspired him to pursue degrees in biology and biomedical sciences.

As an undergrad, Burton Jr. was awarded a research grant that funded a project aimed at understanding the impacts of crude oil components on heart development in zebrafish.

“It was this experience that kick-started my interest in improving quality of life through science,” he says, “I believe this is my life’s purpose, utilizing my abilities to see the big picture, focusing on concrete details, and remaining steadfast in my quest to learn.”

Today, Burton Jr. is a manufacturing associate at the biotech company Biogen, where he is at the forefront of producing medicines for people who need them. “Manufacturing is a very rewarding career,” he says. “For me, there is no greater feeling than knowing that I had a direct hand in manufacturing a product that may improve an individual’s well-being.”

Here, Burton Jr. shares what it’s like working in manufacturing at Biogen, how the company supports his career growth, and the skills that have helped him succeed.

After years working in academic research, you transitioned to a manufacturing role at Biogen. What prompted this career move?

I found research limiting in that the work I did in the lab did not have a clear enough connection to the patients themselves. The transition to manufacturing gave me a closer look at how medicines become a reality for those who need them. To this day, I have a sense of gratitude for my work—and I know that I have a direct role in hopefully making a positive difference in someone’s life.

What are you responsible for as a manufacturing associate?

As a manufacturing associate, I am responsible for executing operations according to the standard operating procedures (SOP) and work instructions specified in the Batch Production Record (BPR). This includes exhibiting Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Documentation Practices (GDP) to successfully support the production of medicines.

I also have “off the floor” responsibilities that include keeping my training record up to date, batch production record review, attending project meetings as a manufacturing representative, assisting with SOP updates, and collaborating with Environmental, Health & Safety (EH&S) initiatives.

What skills from your time as a researcher have helped you succeed in your current role?

The biggest skill that has helped me in my current role is having a keen attention to detail. I pride myself on paying attention to the small details as these can make or break the success of a batch. For example, when monitoring chromatograms, a slight change in flow rate can have a major impact on a batch’s purity. I also believe my eagerness to learn new things has helped in my success by allowing me to participate in several projects, enhancing my career development within manufacturing.

What new skills have you developed since joining Biogen? How did the company support you in learning these skills?

Since joining Biogen, I have been fortunate to collaborate with engineers, scientists, and other experts who support manufacturing. I contribute to projects involved with increasing the facility’s efficiency. As the manufacturing representative in these projects, I can network and learn new skills.

I have also participated in Biogen’s Orbit program, which provides opportunities to work on short-term assignments, to develop my career. I have gained experience with the protein development lab, where I assisted with stability studies of late-stage products. During this experience, I gained skills in authoring technical documents, data analysis, and using Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) to manage samples.

What do you like most about working in manufacturing at Biogen?

I like that I get to work alongside a group of individuals who share a common passion for helping others in need. Each day, we come into work with a positive mindset and work hard to execute with safety first while maintaining the highest standard of quality.

What advice do you have for others who are pursuing manufacturing roles in biotech?

I would advise someone pursuing a role in manufacturing to always take the initiative to learn new skills. You don’t necessarily need a scientific background to be successful in a manufacturing role. Biogen does an excellent job of ensuring operators have the proper training and support to carry out their defined roles and responsibilities.

What is something most people don’t know about what it means to work in manufacturing at a company like Biogen?

Although manufacturing associates are the individuals performing the operations, it takes a collective effort from every member of Biogen to produce a batch. There are a lot of moving parts that go into producing a successful product, including months of development work, writing pages of documentation, and hours of meetings among cross-functional teams. And let’s not forget all the people working behind the scenes. It truly is a team effort to make medicines for patients around the world.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?

Outside of work, I like to maintain my backyard garden of citrus and fruit trees. I am passionate about caring for our environment and building a connection with the land around me. One day, I hope to have a homestead—so these trees are my first step toward that goal.