Being a polymer scientist working on advanced materials technologies for biopharmaceutical purification solutions is as complex – and important – as it sounds.
“My kids know I’m a scientist, but it’s hard to explain to them what I do every day,” says Dr. Jonathan Hester, a Research Scientist at 3M. “I work on advanced materials that go into filters that are used to purify life-saving drugs, including COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic candidates.”
Complicated as it may seem, during a global pandemic, Dr. Hester’s job has never mattered more.
“COVID-19 has changed the world,” he explains, noting that this might not be the last pandemic the world sees, “so we have to get better at solving this problem.”
In the 1990s, when 3M scientists started work on a small biopharmaceutical filtration project, they had no idea their effort would become a part of today’s fight against COVID-19. That resulting product line – the 3M™ Emphaze™ AEX Hybrid Purifier – uses a unique filter material that captures impurities while allowing the necessary drug substances to pass through during the drug manufacturing process. This technology combines two processes into a single step, which can help researchers obtain their final product more efficiently and in greater amounts.
“Once you get a large group of people sharing the same vision and idea, and especially if they have super different skill sets and everybody believes, it’s almost like you can create something that you didn’t think was possible.”
Thanks to Dr. Hester and the efforts of a collaborative team of 3M biochemists, bioprocess engineers, mechanical designers and other research scientists, 3M is finding rapid solutions.
In fact, in addition to helping in the fight against COVID-19, 3M products are also used globally to manufacture life-saving medications used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and types of cancer such as lung cancer, lymphoma and myeloma.
“It gives me great optimism to see what we’re able to accomplish and what this industry has done. 20 years ago, the kinds of protein-based drugs that are now being used to help people were just lab curiosities that could be produced in only nanogram quantities; mass producing them on a large scale was unreachable. And so over years and decades, people have kept working on it, and now we can manufacture them in industrial quantities.”
For research scientists at 3M, working to discover the impossible is the job description. But Dr. Hester only has to look to his family to find all the motivation he needs.
“One day, my kids will realise I wasn’t just trying to help them go out and play again, I was trying to make it safer for the whole world to get back outside too.”