St Petersburg University launched a new bachelor’s programme ‘Biology: Bioengineering Technologies’. The graduates will have every chance of becoming superheroes of our time, as they will be able to produce new medications and use cell technologies to create bio drugs. 

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Synthesis of insulin was as revolutionary a discovery in the World of medicine as antibiotics. No wonder discovery of this hormone and studies of its molecule were awarded several Nobel prizes. Insulin was found by doctors and physiologists, whereas synthesis of the hormone similar to the one produced by the human pancreatic gland is an example of the possibilities of bioengineering. The first attempts to produce insulin were by getting it from the cells of the pancreatic glands of animals. However, it was impossible to clean it up properly, which is why it caused severe allergic response. Scientists resolved this problem with the help of gene modified bacteria, then yeasts. Now these are used to produce analogues of human insulin on a large scale, which results in up to half a million lives a year being saved. 

This is a perfect illustration to answer the question: why enrol on the programme ‘Biology: Bioengineering Technologies’ at St Petersburg University. Having a hand in creating and developing new medications, vaccines, biocatalysts, microorganisms with special properties, medical equipment, prostheses is not the only argument in favour of the academic programme.  

Joint forces

Another undeniable advantage of the programme is the fact that it was developed in cooperation with the international innovative biotech company BIOCAD.  The programme takes into consideration actual requirements of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, which makes it truly up-to-date.

The work on creating the programme started in the summer of 2019. It was based on the University’s bachelor’s programme ‘Biology’. According to Aleksandr Efremov, a graduate of St Petersburg University and talent acquisition manager at BIOCAD, the development of the programme was carried out with participation of Pavel Gershovich, Director of Gene Therapy Research and Development Department and Pavel Iakovlev, Director of Research

& Early Development at BIOCAD. Leading scientists in the field of biology at St

Petersburg University were involved in the development of the programme. ‘For example, Andrei Granovitch was in charge of developing the course “Biodiversity”. Alla Kharazova, first Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Biology, carried out assembly, trimming and adjusting of the programme to the University requirements. Without her this programme would never have been launched,’ Aleksandr Efremov points out.

The programme was developed and launched very quickly – in less than a year. It became possible thanks to the joint forces of an academic university and a biotechnology company.

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‘We like the bachelor’s programme “Biology”. We know its graduates and we trust the teachers of St Petersburg University. This programme is comprehensive and it trains versatile graduates,’ said Aleksandr Efremov.

The key difference of the new programme 'Biology: Bioengineering Technologies’ is that it combines the strong fundamental knowledge provided by the University with a wide range of practical subjects. This will enable students to build skills, including soft skills, necessary for biotech and pharmacology work’.

Aleksandr Efremov, talent acquisition manager at BIOCAD

This is not all. Students of the programme will be provided with the opportunity to implement their knowledge and use their skills in biology labs of the R&D centre (Research and Development) BIOCAD. The representatives of the company underline that R&D is a department of development, the scientific department of the company, where new ideas of the future innovative drugs emerge and undergo preliminary studies. Students will be able to get a first-hand experience of their future profession while studying. The developers of the programme realise how important the practical element is. The graduates of the programme will have an opportunity to work at R&D. They must therefore have not only profound fundamental expertise in the field of biology and chemistry, but also have a grip on working in the lab. They must also understand the process of development (for example, of a drug) and have a great experience of project work in a company. The key difference of the new programme is that it combines the strong fundamental knowledge with considerable practical experience.

At the intersection of disciplines

Another advantage of the programme is its interdisciplinary structure. Students will have a range of courses, necessary for the future biologists, as well as subjects at the interface of computational sciences: modelling, programming, mathematics. ‘We have more hours of mathematics than in the programme “Biology”, though fewer than at the mathematical faculties. Our aim is to give students the basics so that they could analyse and manage lab work. We also want to lay the foundation for the possible future re-profiling in the direction of bioinformatics,’ Aleksandr Efremov clarifies. ‘This is why it will be more difficult for biologists who do not love mathematics.’ It might even be impossible for them, as the key subjects include modelling of biological systems, methods of automation of biotechnology processes, fundamentals of programming languages (Python and others). 

Studying is not going to be easy, but it will certainly give the graduates wide possibilities. Today, there are very few professionals with such a range of skills and competences in the market. Employers put a lot of efforts to win them over by creating the most comfortable working conditions and offering a good salary with bonuses. Apart from business, the graduates will be able to find themselves in an academic environment, such as research and development centres or university labs. For example, Institute of Translational Biomedicine and Bioinformatics Institute of St Petersburg University are unlikely to reject a young and talented researcher.

BIOCAD has been providing training to support all stages of education (from schools to higher education institutes) for a long time. We strive to become an expert partner for schools, centres of additional education and of course universities. We want to attract and support talented and motivated students and to take part in their development.

Alexandra Glazkova, VP, HR & corporate marketing at BIOCAD

‘We do our best to act globally. We have a lot of projects aimed to increase the level of education in Russia. We are keen on training staff in order to develop our company, which means we are interested in organising a sequence of education: high school – bachelor’s degree – master’s degree – employment’.

Headhunting

The BIOCAD company is going to recruit the graduates. ‘Of course, graduates are welcome to work at R&D after graduation,’ Aleksandr Efremov says. ‘We are going to interview the graduates for the positions of researcher lab assistant and junior research assistant.’ Moreover, the company is ready to support some of the students before graduation. St Petersburg University in collaboration with BIOCAD has created personal academic stipends to encourage talented students of the new academic programme. The company will give back 100% of payment to nine students. This compensation does not imply any responsibilities apart from studying well without any unfulfilled academic requirements.

‘We want to support the best students and to give them the opportunity to study for free. However, it is important to point out that getting this stipend does not mean having to work for the company,’ Aleksandr Efremov explains.

Although the graduates will be able to choose any Russian or foreign biotechnology company, both BIOCAD and St Petersburg University are going to encourage students to stay in Russia to develop the national science and biotechnologies.

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