Rex Putnam

Rex Putnam

Track:  Molecular Probes and Sensors
Undergrad: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR - Chemistry
Internship: Serán BioScience
Current Job Title: Scientist 1, Serán BioScience

What about the program intrigued you and why did you choose this path?
What intrigued me about the program was the atypical nature in which it was organized. Unlike other programs which are more academic focused the Knight campus internship program places a large emphasis on professional development and practical job experience. For me it was this focus on developing industry skills that fit my goals best. After undergrad I spent several years in industry and was excited by the opportunity to get a master’s without having to take a long break away from working. Ultimately, I chose to get my master’s at University of Oregon in order to open up more doors in my career and to expand my academic knowledge.       

What was the intensive summer like for you?
The summer term was incredibly busy and definitely overwhelming at times. However, I think being put in uncomfortable positions builds grit and ultimately is a great growth opportunity. The I found the work coursework challenging and rewarding. The curriculum was a healthy balance of lab work and in-class work that served as a broad introduction to the field of molecular sensors. Of course there is a lot of fun to be had and I certainly made fast friends with a lot of very smart interesting people.

The interviews can be fairly grueling as you will most likely have quite a few scheduled back-to-back. That said, it’s an amazing opportunity you won’t get anywhere else. It’s hard to say exactly what each company is looking for as they represent many different industries, but in my opinion companies are looking for basic competence and effective communicators. Being able to talk about your previous work and thinking on your feet is important. The program is well known so there will be quite a few partners looking to hire. As a newer track, most of the current company partners are located around Oregon and the west coast.  

Molecular sensors is incredibly interesting and very fun to learn, but you’ll find it to be a small niche market. That said it absolutely won’t effect your job prospects as the degree is a masters in chemistry. So, from this starting point, the door is wide open for you to go into any position that is science- and chemistry-related. I personally have more a biochemistry background and have been working with the development team at a pharma company filling a role that is typical for engineers. A good friend of mine through the same program is working with in our quality control group focusing on analytical work. So you can really cover the spectrum with the degree you’ll get from UO.

Where did you do your internship?
I did my internship at Serán Bioscience in Bend OR. Serán is a contract development manufacturing operation or (CDMO) that provides drug development services to the pharmaceutical industry. Within the field of pharmaceuticals, CDMOs offer a broad set of services as a way to outsource development work and drug manufacturing. Serán takes on the science for companies that don't have the capabilities to do extensive R&D and has a unique specialization on the solubilization of poorly water soluble drugs via a technology called spray drying. Spray dried dispersions (SDDs) in recent years have been used to enhance the solubility of drugs by exploiting thermodynamics and the potential energy difference between crystalline and amorphous states. By spray drying a solution of dissolved drug and polymer carrier a stable amorphous solid dispersion results. These amorphous dispersions improve dissolution rates and when compared to crystalline drugs offer enhanced bioavailability to poorly water-soluble compounds.

Without giving away proprietary info, what was your internship like?  What were you responsible for?  What was a typical day like?
My internship was hands-on from day one and almost immediately I was fulfilling job duties integral to the function of the company. Serán provided an accelerated learning environment where taking in new information is like drinking from a firehose. During my time as an intern, I worked on projects and performed experiments covering all aspects of research and development at Serán. In my first six months, I focused on the early screening and formulation of spray dried dispersions (SDDs). This work required proposing formulations, spray drying, and characterizing the physical properties of the resulting SDDs. Additionally, I was responsible for assessing the performance of the SDDs in vitro by means of a non-sink dissolution test which can be used to understand and compare solubility differences of amorphous or crystalline drugs in water. Lastly I was responsible for working up data and communicating that information to the R&D director to further client programs. During my last few months, I moved into the solid dosage development (SDF) group where I focused on formulation of tablets and capsules using SDDs. While working in the SDF group I managed 3-4 client programs starting with initial formulation development at bench scale and managing scale up to large sized pilot batches. This work involved many different unit operations which was a great opportunity to learn and master industry standard equipment such as roller compactors used in dry granulation and tablet presses.           

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship?  In what ways?
The coursework didn’t offer any background into the specifics of pharmaceuticals or the science behind what I worked on at my internship. However, it provided a great foundation and necessary keys to being a successful pharmaceutical scientist. The emphasis on professional development and building soft skills prepared me for success more than the academic instruction. Understanding how to write an excellent resume, sharpen interview skills, and build relationships within a network has provided a huge benefit. Ultimately most of industry learning is done on the job so granular details of academic work aren’t as important as having a deep knowledge of science. Generally the program prepared me by giving me a robust problem-solving tool kit which I apply to new challenges everyday.                     

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?  
I was hired on at Serán full time at the end of my internship. So I would say that it prepared me very well and has allowed me to build off of my skill set developed during my internship. I personally have enjoyed the pharmaceutical industry and expect that my work with Serán will directly translate to other pharmaceutical companies if in the future.      

What is your current job like?  
Currently, I remain with the SDF group working as a formulation engineer. My duties since being hired have only continued to expand and I’m closely involved with many of our client projects and directly responsible for leading 3-4 projects. In my role I have the ability to operate in a semi-autonomous environment where projects I lead are managed cradle-to-grave. I have the opportunity to be involved with every aspect of a project from the kick-off meeting to writing tech-transfer documents used by the operations team to manufacture clinical materials.      

How have you evolved in your career since you started?  
I continue to grow and evolve as a person professionally and personally. At the start of my internship I focused my time on learning the industry and absorbing as much information as fast as possible. After having the chance to go though a pseudo-rotational program I gained a perspective and understanding of the science behind Serán. With this knowledge I have been able to operate at a higher level and move into a role where I feel like the work I do has a large impact on the company. I enjoy many aspects of my job, but I would say one of best parts is the people I work with. At Serán there is no shortage of challenging projects and having a team of brilliant hardworking people makes all the difference. So far I have had an unmatched chance to learn all aspects pharma from a group with years of industry experience.     

How does your work or the work of your company serve the common good for?
My work at Serán has a direct and measurable impact on society. The projects we work on help develop drugs for patients and provide desperately needed medications to almost every human ailment. I know that the research and development that I do today may someday help to cure a life-threatening illness and save lives. Knowing the impact of my work is incredibly rewarding and is certainly motivation during more stressful days at work.