Subscribe to Newsletter
Manufacture Bioprocessing - Upstream & Downstream, Bioprocessing - Upstream & Downstream, Technology and Equipment

It’s a Vendor’s Life: Lessons Learned with Rick Morris

Higher education helps you on your way into senior roles

When I was at school, I wondered if I should go to university. No one had ever gone to university from our family, so for me there were many questions about how exactly you go to university and what you should study. I spoke with careers advisors at school, and  my science teachers, particularly my chemistry teacher (Mr Lawrence), were a big influence. I looked into sponsorship opportunities and I applied to various companies, including a local company called Courtaulds, which focused on textiles and chemistry. Ultimately, I was accepted by Courtaulds. First, I did a year in industry where I was involved in making different manmade fibers and weaving processes, and then I went to Leeds University and studied chemistry, polymers and textiles.

Unfortunately, during the time of my degree in the 1980s, the textile industry and the polymer industry in the UK went through a big downturn. When it came to returning to Courtaulds, they could no longer guarantee a job so they released me from my contract. I decided to do a PhD – it was something I’d wanted to do anyway because I’d noted that all of the senior staff at Courtaulds seemed to have a PhD. Higher education is very important, if you want to go far in life. As my career progressed, I also learned that those even higher up had an MBA. In time, I achieved this too and it has definitely helped my career! At the time, these higher qualifications seem unobtainable, but when you finally obtain them it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it is. It is a sign that can stretch yourself and that you’re capable of handling more advanced research projects.

Many people in industry may not truly appreciate the work that goesinto building a high-tech biopharma system.
Gain broad experience and grab new opportunities

How did I get into biotech? During the third year of my degree, I focused on enzyme and antibody immobilization on radiation grafted copolymers, which was a forerunner for chromatography. I learned about RNA, DNA, amino acids, proteins, and so on, and it was interesting so I did my PhD on a similar theme. My first foray into the industry was at a company that later became MediSense. The focus was on electrochemical sensors for personalized diagnostics. Initially, I worked on in vivo electro-chemical sensors that monitored glucose for diabetics. My job was to make hollow fiber membranes. (I remember when we needed to test these diagnostics and everyone in the team spent at least one night in Oxford Infirmary being fed Mars bars, measuring glucose going up and down!) We decided not to push out an in vivo test as a start-up because it involves many regulatory hurdles. But we later developed an in vitro test.

From there, I joined another company as a developmental scientist and ended up running a pilot plant for about a year that made various sensors. And then one day, some guys who had previously sponsored projects at MediSense asked me out to dinner. They were forming a start up in Sydney, Australia. And asked if I wanted to join them… in Sydney.

Looking back over my career, I have traveled and moved around a lot but the hardest move was that jump from the UK to Australia. Although the language is similar, the culture is not the same and the distances are huge. At one point I travelled from Sydney to the national university in Canberra. It’s not that far in the grand scheme of things in Australia, but to me it was like going half way across the UK. I remember panicking, thinking that I’d end up stranded in the desert. I packed the car up with water and supplies in case I broke down or got lost. But it was suburbia all the way!

Over the years, the idea of user–friendly equipment has become increasingly important.

Rick Morris is Senior Vice President of R&D at Pall Biotech, Pall Corporation.

Be a change agent

I was in Australia for about three years, working in different areas from water filtration, to cell separation and biotech projects, before being asked to run a plant in San Diego. I ended up being the general manager, which was interesting because, as well as running the plant, I was also doing direct sales. Jumping from being a scientist to sales for some people can be difficult, but I didn’t seem to have any trouble with the transition. When I was around 13 years old, I used to help out in our family’s post office/general store, which, looking back, got me used to working and interacting with people! Because it was technical sales, I enjoyed talking about the intricate details of a product. But today, sales people often speak with procurement folks, who only care about price. It takes a lot to get past the “gatekeeper”, but the best salespeople are those who 
can network.

All in all, I’ve worked at a lot of different companies over my career and been through many acquisitions. I’ve always added to my skillset along the way, and built up a distinct ability to be flexible! The biggest piece of career advice I can offer is: always be open to change. Don’t fight new changes coming in. Try and be flexible and work well in different situations. And don’t stay pigeonholed – you don’t want to be the expert in just one area.

Being involved in equipment R&D draws on my many experiences – which makes it truly satisfying

Having experience in many different areas – polymers, filtration and biotech (even inkjet printing at one point) has really helped me at Pall, where I work today. For some, working with equipment may not evoke the same excitement as actually developing new medicines, but I find it very rewarding. I’ve always loved technology and making things, and I now get involved in many different areas – from polymer science to adhesive technologies. My previous work with sensors has also been hugely important; bioreactor users often want to measure glycosylation, which makes use of electrochemical sensors. In some cases, what’s needed in the biotech industry is the ability to approach all technologies and get the best out of everything. I have to work with plastic bags, tanks, sensors, fix things to other things, measure data, analyze data… There are a lot of interesting people to work with!

It’s incredible that our technologies lead to new therapies that can treat people. With the new cell and gene therapies coming through pipelines, there could be some fantastic differences made to patient lives. I’m really glad to be involved in this business.

Vendors today are partners in the industry and we really do put a lot of work into our role in industry.
Usability is king

Today, I am the senior vice president of biotech R&D at Pall and my team focuses on creating new systems. Many people in industry may not truly appreciate the work that goes into building a high-tech biopharma system, such as a bioreactor, or even the work that goes into just making a high-quality single-use bag; you need to select the right film, the side seals need to be just right to reduce the chance of it splitting, the integrity test needs to be performed in an exact manner, and you need aseptic connectors that fit perfectly. It’s completely unacceptable to produce a substandard product that will leak after two days.

Over the years, the idea of user-friendly equipment has become increasingly important. For years, many people in the biopharma equipment industry didn’t seem to give it much thought. You’d make a system – perhaps a fantastic system – and put it out on the market, but it wouldn’t be user friendly. Today, we have a whole department that works on usability and it feeds into every part of the design. Rather than having square-shaped equipment, many systems today are more rounded – it’s a small touch that makes a system look more user friendly. It’s also easy to connect different components and you don’t break your hands trying to get things together. The work that goes into making sure systems connect smoothly should not be underestimated. I’ve seen people in other divisions develop fantastic filters that were so large they were taller than a person. How do you get that into a tank? It’s nigh on impossible for most people to take the filter up the stairs or through a lift and then install it. It had to be redesigned. Having something that works is one thing. Make it work and be user friendly, and then you’ll really resonate with the people you are selling to.

We must collaborate – and advance together

When you work for a vendor, there is a danger that you are always seen as “selling” something. Vendors today are partners in the industry and we really do put a lot of work into our role in industry. We partner with academia and regulatory authorities – and this is essential to advance the field. Right now, we’re looking to advance the continuous bioprocessing field. We can’t do this without collaborating with other experts.

It is well accepted that the costs of biopharma manufacturing need to come down because the final drugs are simply too expensive. To lower costs, other industries have adopted continuous processing. Biopharma and biotech is one of the last industries to go to continuous, which is very strange because it has some of the most eminent scientists in the world working in it! But from a process and manufacturing point of view, progress has been very conservative. Regulators cannot endorse our technologies but they are encouraging the industry to look at continuous bioprocessing. I was at a recent event where the FDA’s Scott Gottlieb said that he wants continuous processing to be used across the industry – not just for monoclonal antibodies, but for cell and gene therapies too. He sees these processes evolving a great deal. People in industry always say that regulation is a hurdle, but the FDA is definitely leading us to the water. Whether we all drink from the pond is up to us.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Medicine Maker and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

About the Author
Rick Morris

Rick Morris is Senior Vice President of Biotech R&D at Pall.

Register to The Medicine Maker

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Medicine Maker magazine