Bridging Academia and Industry

March 7, 2023

The University of Arizona is collaborating with Amgen, a global leader in biotechnology, to strengthen and diversify the nation’s STEM workforce.

Danielle Johnson, Pharmacy student

​Danielle Johnson, one of the first two recipients of the Amgen fellowship, specializes in pharmacology and toxicology.

Amgen’s academia-biotech fellowship program began in 2021 with master’s level students from Howard University. Amgen’s Karen Walker, Manager, R&D Strategy & Operations, and René Hubert, Director, Expression & Cell Engineering, initiated discussions with UArizona in 2022 to expand the program to doctoral students.

“I’m excited about collaborating with a premier pharmaceutical company, especially one that offers opportunities to underrepresented communities and that Forbes Magazine has named as one of the nation’s best workplaces for women,” says UArizona’s Brian Adair, Executive Director for Industry Engagement. “The Amgen fellowship and the hands-on experience our PhD students receive working in industry will greatly benefit them prior to graduation and throughout their careers.”

The first UArizona students to be awarded the fellowships are Danielle Johnson, pharmacology and toxicology; and Lauren Reyes, clinical translational science.

Professor of molecular and cellular biology Frans Tax is coordinating the Amgen fellowships aspart of his work with the NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development. He considers the Amgen fellowship a model for the future. “The kind of internship Amgen is giving is the best kind ofcollaboration we could imagine. In the future, I hope it will be five to ten students per year instead oftwo. I also hope more companies will see the mutual benefit of collaborating with us.”

The Fellows

Danielle Johnson’s reason for becoming a biomedical researcher is personal. “The summer going into my first year of high school, my grandfather’s health declined from lung cancer. From that point on, I wanted to be a biomedical researcher."

Johnson chose the University of Arizona for her doctoral work to benefit from the school’s biological and biomedical sciences umbrella program. “I didn’t know what I wanted because I hadn’t been exposed to the realm of what is possible,” says Johnson. “The program allowed her to take core classes while doing lab rotations in both cancer biology and pharmacology and toxicology.”

Working in Dr. John Jewett’s lab, Johnson develops chemical tools to advance the study of biological complexities. “With some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, mitochondria become dysfunctional,” she says. “I’m trying to discover the implications of that dysfunction.”

Photo of Lauren Reyes wearing a striped shirt and jeans, sitting outside

Lauren Reyes, one of the first two recipients of the Amgen fellowship, specializes in clinical translational science.

As an undergraduate studying biological science, Lauren Reyes was drawn to genetics and biomedical engineering. But she wasn’t sure how those fields would help her contribute to society. When she visited UArizona’s medical campus in Phoenix, her vision for her career came into focus.

“When I found the clinical translational science program,” Reyes says, “it was a fit for my asking, ‘So what?’ It would allow me to study traditional molecular biology and apply it to human health solutions.”

Her particular interest is cancer biology and drug discovery, and her dissertation targets melanoma. “In Arizona, melanoma is prevalent, so it’s meaningful to work toward something that may help those in my community.”

Reyes’ mentor, Tim Marlowe, is director of an Arizona drug discovery lab at the College of Medicine – Phoenix that has identified a protein upregulated in about 80 percent of all solid tumors. Reyes’ research centers on assessing the efficacy of therapeutics versus what’s currently available in the clinic to treat melanoma.

“We’re a great fit.” Dr. Marlowe says. “Lauren is committed to make a difference in the world. I support her research and these next steps to fulfill that calling.”