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Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University. (File photo)

JHU to offer new Ph.D program with biomedical firm

Johns Hopkins University is launching a new Ph.D program that will offer students hands-on work experience in the biopharmaceutical field, where they’ll learn about the process of discovering and developing new drugs.

Officials say the partnership between the university and MedImmune, a company that focuses on biologics – prescription medicines developed from biological sources – is the first of its kind in the United States.

Students from the university’s medical and engineering schools can apply to the program, which will combine the standard Hopkins curriculum with courses co-taught by MedImmune scientists and a possible yearlong internship with the company.

MedImmune, which has facilities in Gaithersburg as well as California and the United Kingdom, is the biologics research arm of the London-based AstraZeneca, which reported $24.7 billion in revenue in fiscal 2015.

Scientists often spend years getting their doctoral degrees but don’t really know what awaits them outside of academia, MedImmune Executive Vice President Bahija Jallal told The Daily Record, adding that she didn’t know much about the industry until she was doing her postdoctoral research.

“One of the major challenges for the future of the biomedical workforce is how to prepare the next generation of scientists for diverse careers inside and outside of academia,” JHU President Ronald J. Daniels, said in a statement. “As the nation’s first research university, it is fitting that Johns Hopkins is at the forefront of creating innovative training opportunities for our students.”

The new program is about opening the doors to students and showing them what MedImmune does and how they do it, Jallal said.

“It’s our obligation to give back to society,” she said. “This is a way to give back.”

One of the most important things that the program can convey to students is that collaboration is crucial to science, Jallal said. “If we do nothing but plant that seed [in their minds],” she said, “we will have succeeded already.”

Students will work with MedImmune principal investigators on some projects, and the company will open its laboratories to students “if the project permits,” she said.

The first cohort of up to five students will begin its studies in the spring of 2017, Jallal said.

Both Hopkins and MedImmune say they want to duplicate the program with other partners in the future.

While this is this is the first partnership the company has established with an American university, MedImmune launched a similar Ph.D program with the University of Cambridge in England in October 2015 and has collaborated with the school on various other programs dating back 25 years, Jallal said.

In 2013, MedImmune and Johns Hopkins launched a five-year, $6.5 million joint research initiative with areas of focus that included oncology, neuroscience and infectious disease.