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What’s Missing From Biotech Graduate Education? With Free Course, RA Capital Attempts to Fill the Gaps

By Jessica Sagers

As a PhD student in the life sciences at Harvard, I attended almost every career seminar that came through my inbox. I had no idea what I wanted to do after finishing my research doctorate, but I was certain that it wasn’t more cell culture.

The walls of my academic bubble were so thick that even as a budding cell biologist, I’d managed to hear almost nothing about Boston’s booming biotech industry. “Going into industry” was regarded as an “alternative career,” to the point where it sounded like taking a job outside of academia was tantamount to abandoning science. Besides, all my training had been in basic science. The coursework I’d excelled in, from neurobiology to biophysics, did not equip me to translate what I’d learned to the business world.

During my final PhD year, curiosity about the biotech sector drove me to accept an internship at RA Capital Management, a life science-focused investment firm in Boston. Dr. Peter Kolchinsky (Harvard Program in Virology, ’01), Founder and Managing Partner of RA Capital, brought me and a group of fellow PhD students on board to help achieve his vision of providing more pragmatic, focused training to scientists and professionals interested in working in biotechnology. Together, we designed a short, advanced course on the business of biotech designed to fit the practical needs of late-stage graduate students and early-career professionals.

Reads: RA Capital The Business of Biotechnology "You'll never see the industry the same way" Spring 2020 short course: March 2, 4, 9, 11 Apply at third iteration of our course, “The Business of Biotechnology: Advanced Concepts,” is now accepting applicants and brings late-stage PhD, MD, MBA, and JD students and recent graduates together to address important practical concepts not traditionally taught in other biotechnology courses. Over four three-hour sessions, we dive deeply into how and why companies and investors decide to price a new drug the way they do; debate the role and timing of direct price controls in a vibrant industry; examine competitive strategy in drug development by analyzing mergers and acquisitions in the Hepatitis C space; work through a detailed NPV model; and learn what key aspects of an early-stage pitch attract investors.

Graduate students from Harvard, MIT, the Broad and Whitehead Institutes, and other Boston institutions describe the course as “the Freakonomics of the biotech industry” and “a mindblowing educational experience.” They leave having formed an invaluable network of bright, like-minded peers—to quote a recent student, “Thanks to this course, I was able to meet a group of brilliant and enthusiastic people who wholeheartedly care about the future of the biotech industry and will fight for it.”

Importantly, this course is free to all participants, and thus accessible to anyone accepted—all that those who take it promise RA Capital is their time and intellectual energy. The application process is competitive (over 100 applications for ~25 spots) and open to all late-stage graduate and professional students and early-career working professionals who intend to pursue a career at the nexus of biotechnology and business. For the upcoming Spring course (March 2-11, 2020), our application closes January 20.

As Kolchinsky writes, “We can probably all remember a single course, a single lecture, or even a single book that fundamentally changed our thinking and guides our decisions. That’s the kind of course we have designed: a short, intense upgrade for people planning on a career in or related to biotechnology, whether in companies, as investors, as lawyers, academic founders, or government.”

Now is the time to take charge of your biotechnology education. We invite all interested and available students to submit an application to join our Spring 2020 cohort. If you’re interested but don’t meet our eligibility criteria, you can read more about the concepts we write and teach about by accessing the publicly available material under the Perspectives tab on our website.

Jessica Sagers

Jessica Sagers, PhD, is Head of Engagement at RA Capital Management, LP, where she directs a concerted effort to analyze, design, and shape internal and external narratives. She works with RA’s newcos to develop optimal pitch decks and public messaging, develops educational materials for the firm’s internal and external business courses, authors articles, and presents at conferences on concepts such as the biotechnology social contract that she and colleagues have written on. She holds a BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University and a PhD in auditory neuroscience from the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard University. Her graduate research investigated novel small molecule approaches to treating vestibular schwannoma and neurofibromatosis type 2.

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