Meet Process Engineer Jacob Albrecht

1/12   in the series Meet the Process Engineers

Welcome to the latest in a series of AIChE blog posts profiling process engineers, a diverse group of professionals spanning multiple industries and regions. In this series, we aim to profile process engineers who work in fields as diverse as petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, and any process-intensive industry.

Are you a member and process engineer interested in being profiled? We'd love to hear from you via this volunteer opportunity. Also, we hope to build an online discussion group specifically for process engineers. You can find out about both of these initiatives and join our efforts by visiting https://www.aiche.org/processengineering

This month, we introduce you to Jacob Albrecht. He is a Principal Scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He talks about the challenging but enjoyable road to manufacturing new medicines, the creative aspect of process engineering, as well as the importance of his work.

Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.

Our group supports process development for small molecule pharmaceuticals. The processes predominantly use synthetic organic chemistry to create a candidate drug to treat a particular illness.

The route to synthesize a candidate drug involves a number of intermediate steps run as batch processes.

Chemists determine best sequence of steps in the lab, and process engineers are responsible for anticipating and resolving any issues that would arise when the process is run on a manufacturing scale.

Our group enables the manufacture of drug substance needed to show patient safety and efficacy in clinical trials, as well as generating the process knowledge to manufacture the drug on a commercial scale -if it is approved by regulators.

At BMS, I enjoy the variety of challenges, the ability to utilize process engineering fundamentals and modeling techniques to make smart decisions, and the ultimate goal of manufacturing new medicines.

 Process engineering is appealing because it is inherently creative: done right, the product has more value than the sum of its parts, and designing the process requires some creative thinking.

Why did you become a process engineer?

I really like the sense of accomplishment that comes with creating things, both at work and through hobbies.

Process engineering is appealing because it is inherently creative: done right, the product has more value than the sum of its parts, and designing the process requires some creative thinking.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?

Process engineering for my department involves developing, characterizing, and executing a chemical synthesis route for small molecule pharmaceuticals to support clinical trials.

Before process development starts for a drug candidate, very small quantities have to be made by our drug discovery group, but there is no sure way to manufacture the quantities that are needed for clinical trials.

Inventing and engineering a pharmaceutical process requires tight cooperation with some very talented organic and analytical chemists as well as external partners. Given time and resource constraints, it is impossible to collect vast amounts of experimental data on every aspect of every step.

Important issues must be identified early and prioritized in order to focus resources and ensure that the final process reliably delivers high quality material.

Working through these challenges has a big payoff: being able to see that patients benefited from a drug that was manufactured using a process you developed.

When issues arise, process engineers are critical to identifying root causes and implementing solutions. 

How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?

Chemical engineers have a huge role in manufacturing medicines! Within a regulated environment, the only way to ensure a reliable supply of quality products is to really understand what's going on in the process.

When issues arise, process engineers are critical to identifying root causes and implementing solutions.

A quantitative approach to problem solving is also a part of process engineering, in order to prioritize work and measure the impact of different ideas.

My own career path has moved from a hands-on laboratory work to more statistical analysis and first principles modeling. My focus has shifted from gathering experimental data to helping others maximize the value of their experimental information as it is collected.

Incorporating uncertainty into the decisions that project teams must make is the best way to make the most of information that, by definition, is incomplete during process development.

What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?

There's a lot at stake in the role of process engineer. Carelessness puts people at risk, has negative effects on the environment, and wastes time and money. Safety is always at the top of the list of competing priorities.

Safety for the people who will be in the plant running the process, safety for the consumers of the final product, and safely getting medicines to patients is the most important and rewarding part of my job.

Connect with Jake on AIChE Engage

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