Miles Devaney has always had an interest in science and pharmaceuticals, and over the course of his career, he has worked within cell culture development, pilot plant operations, and manufacturing. More than two decades ago, he found a home at the biotechnology company Biogen—where his latest role is the Site Head and General Manager of Gene Therapy Manufacturing at a brand-new gene therapy manufacturing facility in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park (RTP), scheduled to be completed in 2023.
The facility will create around 90 new jobs, and Devaney is excited about building a team. As for what he’s looking for in talent? “We are targeting individuals who have a strong learning ability and excellent communication and teamwork skills, coupled with a thirst for knowledge and the understanding of our responsibilities to patients,” he says.
Devaney might well be describing himself. Here, he talks about his career growth at Biogen, why the new facility is a game changer for the industry, and the best career advice he’s received.
What initially attracted you to work at Biogen?
When I first interviewed at Biogen in late 1996, the company had no commercial products in the EU and was about to embark on creating value there by bringing their drugs to patients. The team that interviewed me was made up of French, U.S., and U.K. citizens and they had a determined view of what they expected me to accomplish. They painted a picture of high expectations and great possibilities. I was sold.
You’ve been promoted eight times during your tenure at Biogen. How does this exemplify the company’s commitment to learning, development, and career growth?
My career at Biogen has been guided by good managers and people leaders who provided me with growth opportunities and a few very real course corrections, which I learned a lot from. During my tenure, I have been given the opportunity to contribute across all operational modalities and some business development projects, one of which led to the purchase of our manufacturing facility in the RTP area of North Carolina. None of this would have happened without the real culture of development, growth, and educated risk taking.
All of that exposure and experience has been incredibly beneficial for me and has allowed for my current opportunity to develop our new gene therapy manufacturing facility. I have learned in my 24 years at Biogen that it is okay to say “no” to opportunities that do not fit you at the time. It is equally important, however, to say “yes” if someone in leadership gives you an opportunity that is better than a 60% fit for you, because they are investing in you and their own success.
What lessons or skills did you learn in previous cross-functional roles that have helped you become the leader you are today?
Resiliency and the ability to accept setbacks as opportunities to improve. I believe it’s important to always remain coachable, regardless of your role. Sometimes feedback can be tough, but it allows for internal reflection on how to improve.
Tell us about the new gene therapy manufacturing site being built. Why will the opening of this facility be so exciting and revolutionary within the pharmaceutical industry?
Our current operations in RTP are bulk biologics, oral solid dose, oligo synthesis, and parenteral filling—all of which are complementary to our existing pipeline. Gene therapy brings a new dimension to the RTP operations. It will use mammalian cells, have parenteral filling, and aim to be a “one-stop shop” for future gene therapy products with the facility potentially outputting drugs that are vialed and ready for patients, all under one roof.
Can you share more about how having the capability to produce four drug modalities differentiates Biogen from other pharmaceutical companies?
Biogen is full of opportunities. In North Carolina alone you can cover three scales of mammalian cell protein expression and recovery (FVM, 2K, LSM), parenteral filling operations, oral solid dose, and oligo synthesis manufacturing. And then, upon the opening of the new facility targeted for 2023, gene therapy manufacturing. These capabilities will all be located within a 1.5-mile radius in RTP. This depth of opportunity and ability to grow one’s skill set within our industry may be difficult to find in other locations.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Align yourself with the business—and not necessarily your boss, as your boss may change. The business of getting safe drugs to patients does not. And even if you think you are doing the role well, ask your manager how you can do it better.