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Courtney Webster

Courtney Webster

Bethesda, MD

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Emerald Therapeutics

Director of Fabrication

I managed a small team responsible for the automated and scalable production of short peptides and DNA oligomers. The fabrication team had three primary tasks: custom software engineering, material production, and laboratory automation. My responsibilities also included hiring and training, protocol and experiment documentation, and laboratory safety and permit management.

I. Custom Software

Traditional "point and click" software was too time-intensive for our production goals. Instead, we wrote flexible code that would generate instructions that could be directly imported into our equipment. Our team also wrote software for the high-throughput, bias-free analysis of raw data exported from the instrument(s).

II. Production

Our team of three built and maintained an 8-step DNA production pipeline (on micromole scale) and a 6-step peptide production pipeline (on millimole scale). Both pipelines went from raw material quality control (QC), to synthesis and purification, and ended with post-production QC. We were also responsible for instrument testing and maintenance.

III. "Brains on, hands off" automation

Our team was encouraged to spend a portion of their time in development and iteration to expand the capability of our pipelines without additional personnel investment. Automation existed on a wide spectrum, from designing and milling custom racks, creating a simple but fully automated gel washing station, writing software to connect a liquid handler with a plate reader for polymer quantification, to purchasing off the shelf automation solutions.

IV. Documentation for institutional knowledge

I maintained the software for our electronic protocols and the internal wiki documenting troubleshooting, maintenance, and repair for our experiments and instruments.

V. Laboratory Safety

I managed the reporting and inspections for our county and federal fire and chemical safety permits and managed our hazardous waste production and disposal.

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Career
Career medium 02

Emerald Therapeutics

Molecular Engineer

As the first scientist hired at an early stage biotech start-up, I had three major roles during my first year. First, we converted a new laboratory space into a facility for the automated production of peptides and DNA and RNA oligomers. Second, we recruited and hired our founding team of chemists, biologists, engineers, and computer scientists. Lastly, I worked in a two person team to build a specialized peptide synthesizer when the current "off the shelf" options were insufficient for our needs.

I. Designing and stocking an automated production facility

Our fabrication team would be responsible for the synthesis, purification, and quality control of peptides and short DNA and RNA oligomers (10 - 100 base pairs long). As part of a small team, I investigated, tested, and purchased key systems including a peptide synthesizer, liquid handlers, plate readers, high performance liquid chromatography systems (ion exchange and reverse phase), a MALDI mass spectrometer, and an epifluorescent microscope.

II. Building the Emerald team

Emerald's innovative technology requires a blend of disciplines (physical and organic chemists, mathematicians, cell and molecular biologists, software engineers, etc.) and an entrepreneurial drive to apply an engineering approach to problem solving. As the builders of a new field, we couldn't hire based on a single degree or specialization. Instead, we had the pleasure of hiring based on raw skill, problem solving, and cultural fit. In the first year, our team grew from four to eleven (nine full time employees and two summer interns).

III. Building a specialized peptide synthesizer

Our technology required an unconventional type of peptide, and after investigating and thoroughly testing what the current equipment market had to offer, we found that the "off the shelf" solutions were inadequate. We instead designed custom racks and wrote our own peptide synthesis software to convert a generic liquid handler into a peptide synthesizer.

Career

Stanford University

M.S. Organic Chemistry

My graduate work focused on the design, synthesis, and analysis of various modalities for selective drug delivery and release.

The small peptide sequence, octa-D-arginine (r8), enables the passage of many types of cargoes (small molecules, peptides, proteins, oligonucleotides) across cell and tissue barriers. I investigated two linkage strategies (a spaced carbonate - disulfide cyclization linker, and a unique sulfenamide (N-S) bond) to attach drug cargo(es) to r8. Both linkages are designed to be environmentally sensitive - they selectively disassemble the drug from the transporter only in the intracellular environment. The efficacy, selectivity, and release kinetics of various chemotherapeutic-transporter conjugates were investigated ex vivo and in vitro.

While r8 is a successful topical or peritoneal delivery agent, it's utility with systemic administration has been largely uninvestigated. Due to it's highly positively charged structure, it can be a challenge to avoid aggregation with negatively charged molecules when it is introduced into the bloodstream. I studied the novel encapsulation of r8-conjugates within a biodegradable nanoparticle. This strategy allows for enhanced biocompatibility in the bloodstream, protection from degradation, and tunable sustained release of the internalized conjugates from weeks to months. Further, this creates an opportunity to attach targeting moieties to the exterior surface of the nanoparticle to direct in vivo localization. These nanoparticle formulations were investigated ex vivo and in vivo in transgenic luciferase-expressing mice.

Career medium 05
Career

Merck

Intern, Medicinal Chemistry Department

Synthesized >10 permutations of a proprietary lead target for traditional structure-activity relationship (SAR) studies.

Merck

Intern, Medicinal Chemistry Department

Completed and optimized a 14-step synthesis of a proprietary therapeutic lead for the treatment of diabetes II.

Stanford University

M.S., Organic Chemistry

Hendrix College

B.A., Chemistry