Cell Therapy and COVID-19

MBP alum and Industrial Advisory Board member Katherine Radwanski (MBP '07) talks about her job at Fresenius Kabi USA and the role therapeutics are playing in the fight against COVID-19.

Katherine Radwanski (MBP '07) is an associate director in Research and Scientific Affairs at Fresenius Kabi USA, where she focuses on therapeutic apheresis technologies and cellular therapies.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Radwanski's main priorities were new product development and post-launch scientific affairs for a cellular therapy program. Now, in addition to her primary tasks, Radwanski has the added responsibility of scientific affairs coverage for convalescent plasma. Traditionally, plasma units were collected on her company's donor apheresis devices, but thanks to a pivot due to COVID-19, they can now also be collected on therapeutic apheresis devices as well.

Radwanski serves on Northwestern Engineering's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) Industrial Advisory Board, and she recently took time to talk about COVID-19, how it's impacted her, and the role biotechnology will play in helping society recover from the ongoing pandemic.

"Biotech is helping us manage through the disease currently and ultimately will be the solution to the disease." — Katherine Radwanski (MBP '07)


How would you describe cell therapy to someone with little to no knowledge of it?

Cell therapy is focused on harnessing the power of one’s own blood cells to help fight their disease or someone else’s disease. 

What role will cell therapy have in combating COVID-19? Cellular therapies have the ability to modulate the immune system in either direction, meaning to stimulate or suppress, and therefore, they can be beneficial in boosting a patient’s response to COVID-19 or reducing it. Research into these areas is still very preliminary. 

What role will plasma therapies have in combating COVID-19? Convalescent plasma has emergency use authorization in the United States, meaning that it can be used up front in the battle of COVID-19, which is where we are seeing the greatest benefit to patients with this type of therapy. Clinical trials of a more standardized version of convalescent plasma, known as hyperimmune globulins, have now begun in the US and if found to be efficacious, will represent the longer-term product used to fight COVID-19 and other pandemics, should they arise. 

How, if at all, do you think the public's perception of biotechnology has changed since the pandemic started?

I think the public is now appreciating biotechnology as essential work as we not only help to support and maintain the supply of existing therapies — since the need for these doesn’t stop during a pandemic — but now also pivot to develop new therapies to fight emerging diseases. 

What role do you think biotech will play in helping society move past COVID-19?

Biotech is helping us manage through the disease currently and ultimately will be the solution to the disease when effective vaccines have been made publicly available. 

How do you think MBP is preparing students to succeed in today's complex and ever-changing world?

Biotechnology is exploding these days, especially in the therapeutics space. Fewer small molecule drugs are being developed, with more products coming to market in the form of the biologics and cellular therapies. MBP is preparing students for success in the workforce by focusing on the technical and regulatory aspects of the latter technologies.

What would you say to a prospective student considering MBP?

It’s worth the time and resource commitment to spend gaining additional, in-depth working knowledge of the biotechnology industry through the MBP program. The research projects are particularly helpful in learning about the numerous applications of biotechnology, both in industry and academia. So much is learned by just researching the various opportunities and later comparing and discussing projects with your classmates. Plus, the relationships I developed during MBP with classmates and other students at the university have been quite beneficial throughout the years.

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