Boehringer Ingelheim Partners
with CLAS to Train World-Class Chemists 


From the UConn Foundation's Our Moment newsletter (November-December 2012)

UConn students at Boehringer Ingelheim
From left: Diandra Rudzinski, Dr. Bo Qu,
Dr. Chris Senanayake, Lalith Samankumara
and Dr. Melissa Herbage
Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, a top 20 pharmaceutical company, is collaborating with the University of Connecticut to enhance scientific training, building an educational partnership that could serve as a model for other companies in the state.

Boehringer Ingelheim will provide hands-on training in their Ridgefield Chemical Development and Medicinal Chemistry Departments to some of UConn's most outstanding organic chemistry students. The Boehringer Ingelheim scientists will help design and teach a course on research, which will be open to all graduate students.

"We believe collaboration between industry and academia is extremely valuable for training highly skilled scientists," says Chris Senanayake, vice president of chemical development for Boehringer Ingelheim. "Our goal is to enrich students' education with a practical understanding of the work taking place in our industry. Not only will it help jumpstart their careers, it will help us ensure a new generation of scientists who understand the performance, innovation, and efficiency issues facing our business."

Specifically, the company is providing a five-year, $260,000 grant to support three organic chemistry students during the third, fourth, and fifth years of their PhD programs. During the fourth year, the students will intern at Boehringer Ingelheim, working on challenges and solutions facing industrial chemists. During the third and fifth years of their programs, the students will work on campus as research assistants.

"Students who participate in this program will graduate with a very special degree," says Nicholas Leadbeater, associate professor of chemistry who helped develop the program. "The academic environment is different from industry. Our students gain a tremendous amount of knowledge, but they are often focused on their own project. In industry, scientists are part of a team and instead of working to produce a few milligrams of a molecule in the university laboratory, they may be called on to produce many kilograms of a molecule for commercial purposes. The time frames are different and the equipment is different. This internship will give our students invaluable real-world experience," according to Leadbeater.

"Boehringer Ingelheim deserves great credit for increasing their support for education during tough economic times when other companies are pulling back," says Amy Howell, head of the Department of Chemistry. "The year-long internship is providing the foundation for a new type of PhD experience for UConn graduate students," she says.

"UConn students will see first-hand some of the challenges facing industrial chemists. Professors can lecture to students about the importance of finding impurities, but the words take on much greater meaning after students realize that a regulatory agency such as the Food and Drug Administration is looking for absolute reproducibility in batch after batch of a possible drug," says Howell.

For third-year PhD student Chris Lorenc, the first participant selected for the program, the grant is a "fantastic opportunity." He is planning to work in industry and says the experience at Boehringer Ingelheim will be essential. "I can't wait."

"An intensive training experience, such as the Boehringer Ingelheim internship, is extremely rare," says Lida Mullarkey, assistant director of development for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This grant adds a really valuable element to our PhD program, and with Boehringer Ingelheim's leadership, we hope other pharmaceutical companies will help us expand the program to involve more students."

"Students of the sciences learn to be imaginative and to look at their world with a critical eye," says Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "These internships will allow students to apply their knowledge to concrete, professional projects."

In 2008, Boehringer Ingelheim gave UConn a grant of $180,000 to support a master's degree program in synthetic organic chemistry. It included a six-month internship for six students seeking master's degrees. Many of those students have gone on to work in key positions in the pharmaceutical industry.

Other gifts from the pharmaceutical company include $1.25 million in 2006 to establish the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., Chair in Mechanistic Toxicology and $250,000 in 2004 to support and name the Boehringer Ingehlheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. Dosage Forms Laboratory at the School of Pharmacy.

By: Kristina Goodnough, UConn Foundation


To support the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, please contact the Foundation's development department.

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