Where Are They Now? Q&A with Former BioCanRx HQPs

At BioCanRx, we are incredibly proud of our HQP and their dedication to cancer immunotherapy research. Whether they are working on viruses in the lab or examining the socioeconomic barriers to adopting certain treatments in Canada, each one plays a unique role in strengthening our network and expertise in immunotherapy.


BioCanRx is invested in our HQP by providing them with both the training and skills they need to be leaders in academia and industry. We are pleased to introduce Noelle Wilton, a former summer student with Dr. David Latulippe in 2017, and Mélissa Mathieu, a former post-doc doing immunotherapy research with Dr. Simon Turcotte.


They recently gave us an update on where they are now, and provided us with some insight on how being a BioCanRx HQP helped them in their respective careers.


1. Tell us about yourself. Give us a brief background. Who are you? Where did you go to school and what is your association to BioCanRx?


Mélissa Mathieu

Mélissa Mathieu (MM): My name is Mélissa, and I was born and raised around the province of Quebec. I loved biology and chemistry, thus I chose to pursue my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry at Laval University. At that time, I happened to take an optional course about fundamental immunology and thought that the immune system was so complicated that I wanted to learn more about it. I decided to pursue a Master’s and Ph.D. degree at the University of Montreal in the laboratory of Dr. Nathalie Labrecque, where I studied the CD8 T-cell immune response following vaccination. By the end of this journey, I was intrigued by cancer immunotherapy and decided to join the laboratory of a clinician at the CRCHUM, Dr. Simon Turcotte, were I studied the T-cell immune response against neoantigens. It was during my post-doc that I joined BioCanRx by attending the annual Summit4CI meeting.


Noelle Wilton

Noelle Wilton (NW): Hello, my name is Noelle Wilton, and in 2017, I received the BioCanRx summer studentship, which supported my research in the Latulippe Lab at McMaster University. Our project focused on the final filtration step involved in the purification of the oncolytic virus Maraba, for use in treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Within this project, I also focused on the use of nanoparticles as virus mimics and the effect of surfactants in membrane purification processes. Following my summer studentship, I continued with my fourth year of studies at McMaster in the Faculty of Engineering in the Chemical Engineering and Biosciences program. While McMaster University and Hamilton have become my home away from home over the past four years, I am native to the small town of Collingwood, Ontario, where I grew up skiing, hiking, and spending time at the beach. In my free time I love to read, be outdoors, and ride horses.


2. Where do you work now, and what is your position?


(MM): I now work at Caprion Biosciences, where I am a Senior Scientist.
(NW): I recently began a year-long internship in Marin County California, at BioMarin Pharmaceuticals. BioMarin is a biopharmaceutical company that focuses on providing treatments to patients living with serious and life-threatening rare genetic diseases. Some of these patient populations are as small as 1,000 people worldwide, and are primarily children. I chose to make this journey to the West Coast to get involved in the cutting-edge research and development that is at the core of all aspects of BioMarin’s work. My position is in the manufacturing sciences and technology group, where I develop methods to assess different attributes of commercially available drug products. Specifically, I focus on automating assays and purification processes using a Tecan Liquid Handling Device. My project stems from BioMarin’s drive to incorporate speed and efficiency to their processes, enabling care to be delivered as quickly as possible to their patients. Named by CenterWatch as one of the fastest drug developers in the industry, and by Forbes as a top innovator, I am looking forward to continuing my journey as a life-long learner and making an impact in peoples’ lives here at BioMarin.


3. How has your experience with BioCanRx contributed to your career development?


(MM): During the annual Summit4CI, many soft skills workshops were given to Highly Qualified Personnel. I strongly believe that these workshops were valuable because they taught me about resume and interview formats, project management and negotiations. We also had the opportunity to meet experts in various fields, giving me a better idea of career opportunities available outside of academia. Finally, the Summit4CI provided me with great networking opportunities, which are essential for transition to industry.


(NW): Working within BioCanRx gave me unparalleled exposure to the world of research in both an academic and industry setting. I was able to grow as a researcher and develop independent and team work skills that helped me get where I am today. Beyond building skills in the lab, I was given opportunities to work alongside some extremely successful researchers and become connected with a network of people working within cancer immunotherapy. Working towards a cure for people suffering from disease is something incredibly special – and BioCanRx showed how the challenges met in research are surpassed by the rewards of helping those in need. As an engineering student, I wasn’t sure where my role could fit into working with and for patients; but through my summer studentship I found where my two skill sets merge, and how my work is extremely valuable in this industry. In the future, I plan to pursue further education within the field of biosciences and engineering and continue to be involved within the biotherapeutic industry.


4. What advice do you have for career development that you would pass on to other BioCanRx trainees?


(MM): I would give one piece of advice that I was previously given to me : become what you want to be. Find your dream job and look at task description for the position. Then, select some skills you want to acquire and slowly add them to your skillset. Never underestimate the value of volunteering to gain experience. Dress according to your ambition, as your future employer must be able to foresee you as one of their team members. And at last, keep focusing on your dreams and be patient, good things come to those who wait!


(NW): To future students: I would say enjoy it, learn as much as you can, and never be afraid to make a mistake or take a risk. At this point in our careers, every opportunity is extremely powerful, and the things we experience now will continue to have impacts on the rest of our lives. Every experiment you do, every paper you read, every “failure” you have will help you to become a better scientist. The industry you are breaking into is so powerful and is changing the way we view diseases. As students, you have the knowledge taught in the classroom and the fresh perspective of an outsider to think beyond common practice and be truly innovative. Take this amazing opportunity through BioCanRx to open every door for you and then return the favour by being yourself and working hard! That makes all the difference, and to the patients you are working for, that difference can mean a better life. I wish you all the best of luck, I know you will all be amazing!