Last week, Kamal Rashid, PhD, the BETC’s Director of several years, bid us goodbye as he stepped down from the full time duties to focus more time on family and consulting. We were lucky enough to catch him in his final, busy week for an interview about the past, present, and future of the BETC, biotech, and his own career and life.
Talk about your early days at WPI. What is your first memory of working here? What was the BETC like in that first year?
When I joined BETC, it was just starting to become a center. I was amazed by the way the center was designed and equipped before I joined. A great team surrounded me and together we developed a few training programs in the first year. Our aim was to create a vibrant, hands-on training program to help the Biomanufacturing industry in the Commonwealth with their workforce demands to move biological products from the pipeline into commercialization. Now, five years later, the Center is well recognized for its numerous workforce development programs and the Biomanufacturing industry is utilizing it effectively for their needs
The last few years have been fast-paced and full of growth at WPI. How did the BETC change under your supervision and direction?
When I came on board, the Center was totally focused on training program development. Now, the Center is a well-diversified entity with research projects, graduate education, contract services and grantsmanship. The team put extra effort to expand the efforts and bring more academic programs to the Center. We are among the national leaders in getting collaborative NIIMBL grants (two grants worth more than $2.3M) for advancing the industry’s needs in automation (collaborations with BTEC at NC State, University of Maryland) and industrial collaborators and an online cell therapy program development (With MIT and industrial collaborators).
What was your greatest accomplishment during your time at WPI?
I think my efforts in keeping WPI in NIIMBL is the distinguished effort and hopefully will lead to further projects not only in workforce development but also in translational research activities involving our faculty with the Biomanufacturing industry.
I am proud that we started contributing to the undergraduate research by directing students in two MQP’s with Eppendorf and GE Healthcare. This is an area that the Center can contribute to more down the road. The Advanced Biomanufacturing Symposium is another example of the Center diversification. It was established to make WPI a lead institution in advancing the effort to make Central Mass a second hub for Biomanufacturing operations.
Who at WPI has left a lasting impact on you? Anyone you would like to mention or thank?
The A-team at the BETC and the marketing group at CPE. I want to thank them for their significant input into the success of the Center activities.
How do you see the biotech industry changing in the next few years?
The industry will remain focused on biologics development for years to come, however, there will be new focus areas for which the industry will need comprehensive training programs and graduate education. These include vaccine manufacturing, Antibody Drug Conjugates and gene and cell therapy. The Center can focus on these areas for additional training programs and research projects.
How can universities like WPI stay ready to handle these changes?
Collaboration with the industry and recruiting faculty and graduate students to participate in the education and research activities of the Center. For example, NIIMBL’s US Roadmap Program F2F Design Workshop aims at taking a deeper dive into the three priorities that I listed above. The idea is to develop a detailed roadmap that will aim at NIIMBL helping the industry develop new technologies and create new workforce development programs. I, as a representative of WPI to this group, contributed significantly to the vaccine manufacturing section and specifically the vaccine manufacturing workforce development program. I believe our proposed vaccine manufacturing training program could be a great start to work with NIIMBL in helping this industry bring new and improved vaccine to the market.
Another area of focus is cell and tissue therapy workforce development programs. BETC can build upon the collaboration with MIT and involve BME faculty in new program development. It might be possible to get funding from ARMIUSA with emphasis on K-12 programs.
What are your retirement plans, if you care to share? Any big trips or new experiences you’d like to try?
Spend some quality time with my family. Several international trips including one to my homeland are in the planning stages. Writing a book about my son and perhaps a textbook on animal cell culture are also on the list of potential activities. Consulting? For sure.
What will you miss most about WPI and the BETC?
WPI is a great institution and I will miss representing WPI at national and international meetings. It was truly a pleasure to be WPI’s and BETC’s representative at countless conferences, committees and working groups during the last five years. I am pleased and thankful to Dean King and VP Bogdan [Vernescu] for offering me an Emeriti status. That will keep me involved in the grants that I am the PI for WPI and could contribute in other ways if needed.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the community before you go?
Thank you all for all the support. I am grateful to all of you especially during the tragic loss of my son. You were there for my family and me with your kind words, cards, flowers. Thank you.