During the COVID-19 pandemic, Janssen Vaccines was suddenly at the center of attention. The Leiden company, part of the Johnson & Johnson group, developed one of the COVID vaccines that are now used worldwide, but the company also works on vaccines against HIV, RSV and other infectious diseases. Several TMC Employeneurs work for Janssen Vaccines. Three of them talk about how they, each in a very different role, are working to combat infectious diseases.
Oluwaseyi Alalade is a scientist in a team that carries out specific tests for the first phase of vaccine development. In this phase, the safety and uptake of the vaccine are investigated. It must ensure that the validation and testing run smoothly. "I design experiments and ensure that they are carried out according to protocols and safety regulations. I must document the knowledge about the analyzes and transfer them to other labs. Janssen in Leiden cannot issue all the millions of doses of batches of vaccines for, for example, COVID-19. they need help from other labs, and I also spend a lot of time solving problems that can arise in labs."
After a vaccine has gone through phase 1, it must be qualified and validated for the next phase. For this, samples must be analyzed. Pascal Wischhoff works as an operator in the Clinical Immunology department. "We extensively test all patient samples that come to us. Here, we look at different secreted cytokines and the presence of antibodies in patient samples. From there, the data is forwarded to another group within Janssen. They determine the vaccine strategy." Collecting data remains important, even now that the COVID vaccine has been released. "People are still being monitored and we are continuing to collect data across different populations, age groups and dosages."
Carmen Berends also works at Janssen via TMC, but completely on the other side of the vaccination process. She works at the DSP (downstream process development) department. Here the vaccine is processed into a ready-to-use product. "The vaccine produced must be extensively tested and purified. We are investigating how best to purify the vaccine. I am also leading a project aimed at achieving stable production."
Carmen has a background as a biochemical process engineer, but she is also increasingly focusing on data science within Janssen. "We had one production facility in Leiden, which has now been expanded with a number of other facilities around the world. Because there are different data flows, a lot more information is available that we need much faster than before. Moreover, we must deal with regulations. We are catching up with data. In recent years, we have increasingly switched to electronic means. Even if you work from home, you now have access to the data."
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As a Mechanical Engineer you have plenty of variety in your work
Employeneurs at TMC end up in very different places. As a Senior Mechanical Lead Engineer, Murat Kutluk has contributed to machine design in the steel industry, semiconductor industry, research, and many other environments. With the combination of entrepreneurship and a variety in work, he comes into his own just right. "Always doing the same thing doesn't appeal to me. I always look for a new challenge."
Because Janssen needs more and more data, the workload is sometimes high. Carmen: "It has definitely been a pressure cooker last year. Within a year, this company has developed a vaccine. More people and resources have become available, but it also brings challenges. Things that you normally do in a development lab. test, are now going directly to production facilities for a test."
It is a misunderstanding that Janssen has only focused on the COVID vaccine in the past year. Pascal: "Every month we receive more samples that need to be tested and documented in detail." His department has doubled in the last two years, but there is still more than enough to do and there are continuous vacancies.
Oluwaseyi is also very familiar with heavy workloads. She is also a team leader and manages a team of nine people. "Not only is it important that we meet our deadlines, I am also responsible for the well-being of my team. Is everyone developing well? Are people not too stressed?" She started at Janssen in January 2020. "I was thrown in at the deep end by the circumstances. It was a steep learning curve. In a short time I had to provide a qualified method in phase 1 of COVID. In addition, I only visited the office once in 2020 and had to do everything from my home office."
Once in a lifetime experience
Carmen and Pascal had been working for Janssen for more than a year when the corona pandemic occurred. "When the first news about the virus came out in December 2019, Johnson & Johnson immediately started investigating," says Carmen. "The vaccine was developed in an exceptionally short time. What helped is that we already have a lot of knowledge on the production of vaccines. Within Janssen, we aimed to develop a plug-and-play vaccine production process. This means that we use more or less the same process for every new vaccine, and we only change the components that are unique for that vaccine. Of course, every vaccine has its own challenges, but we already knew a lot about what was needed to develop a vaccine successfully by using this platform process.
Even though the workload is quite high, all three TMC employees get a lot of satisfaction from their work. "Hopefully we're only going to experience a pandemic of this caliber once in our lives," said Carmen. "It is a very special experience to have the opportunity to work with a team on something that is so important and has so much impact. That ensures that everyone is willing to go the extra mile."
When the pandemic is behind us, it will be anything but quiet at Janssen. Oluwaseyi: "Due to the pandemic, COVID is now a high priority, but at the same time we are also working on other projects that we need to gradually focus more on."