In Conversation: Shannon Biermann, Senior Quality Control Manager – Microbiology at NextCure
Microbiology Quality Control (QC) testing is a critical function for life sciences companies to ensure that the therapeutics that they’re delivering to patients are free of contaminants such as bacteria or viruses. For those who are close to or have recently graduated with a STEM degree, it’s also a fantastic career option, particularly if you’re interested in breaking into pharma or biotech.
BioBuzz recently spoke with Shannon Biermann, who is a Senior Quality Control Manager of Microbiology at Beltsville, MD-based NextCure, to learn more about how she’s navigated her career in Microbiology QC thus far and how NextCure’s unique company culture helped her to take ownership and propel her career to the next level.
Shannon graduated from Valparaiso University in Northwest Indiana in 2016, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. She began her career at MicroWorks, a consulting laboratory offering an array of microbiological testing services to support the needs of various life science industries. There, she was introduced to the microbiological aspects of QC and learned a great deal about the field from mentors and role models.
After 2 years at MicroWorks, Shannon made her way to the east coast to pursue a role as a QC Analyst at Novavax.
“At Novavax, I learned what it meant to provide QC support to the manufacturing process, which was a new and exciting challenge,” said Shannon. “In my previous position we were far removed from our clients’ product production process. I was now able to take what I had learned in my undergraduate microbiology courses and see how that knowledge translates directly to industry.”
With newfound knowledge of microbiology QC in her arsenal, through networking she made the jump to NextCure in 2019.
NextCure is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company that is developing novel “immunomedicines” to treat cancer and other immune-related diseases. The team utilizes a unique technology platform, FIND-IO™, to evaluate molecular pathways of different immune cells, such as T cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages, and identify proteins that can be targeted to treat disease.
Beyond their interesting scientific approach, the company also has a differentiated business model.
“NextCure has a lot of things going for them that are really unique compared to other companies, and especially other biotechs. The company utilizes an ‘All-Stream’ approach, meaning that team members can be exposed to numerous operations from start to finish, from R&D to clinical manufacturing. I loved this because I wouldn’t be siloed in one department and thus could continue to expand my expertise beyond microbiology,” said Shannon.
“It’s not just a draw for coming to NextCure, but also for staying and growing your career at NextCure.”
As a Senior Quality Control Manager, Shannon’s day-to-day responsibilities largely include project oversight and scheduling major projects. Though she isn’t involved in benchwork as much these days, she still supports teams in the lab as needed, particularly when manufacturing is underway.
“NextCure doesn’t run manufacturing 24/7 like many larger companies do – we manufacture in batches,” said Shannon. “When manufacturing is underway, all hands are on deck to manage and deal with any issues that may arise.”
Building NextCure’s Internal QC Capabilities
Shannon was largely brought on to NextCure to help bring QC capabilities in-house as the team advanced its pipeline and on-site manufacturing – a difficult feat to achieve.
“Most companies of our size and our nature contract these operations out. Some companies don’t even have an internal QC department. For a company that was founded in 2016, it’s really unique and special to have these features,” said Shannon.
Shannon made her case for in-house QC by comparing the cost of outside testing vs. bringing equipment in-house and considering capital equipment validation costs and the flexibility it would provide to our manufacturing operations. After much research, she presented her rationale and got approval.
“Something that I greatly value about NextCure is their willingness to listen and invest in their employees,” said Shannon.
From there, it was off to the races working to procure equipment, get it in and set up in NextCure’s facility, and get it validated. The QC microbiology lab officially was up and running in October 2021.
Shannon’s work is far from over, though, especially as NextCure’s pipeline advances.
Tips for Breaking into the QC Field
QC is a rewarding career path that many early-career jobseekers are not aware of. To break into the field, Shannon exemplifies the importance of networking.
“Whether you want to be in QC specifically or generally work in biotech, networking is your best bet. For those who are just graduating from college or who are early career, I definitely recommend reaching out and being receptive to recruiters,” advises Shannon. “And even when you do have a job, don’t be stagnant – always have your sights on the future in terms of what you want to learn or do next. From there, you can make a plan for how you’ll get there.”
She adds, “And as you network, take note of the skills and knowledge that the person possesses and think about what you can learn from them. Always be listening, because even if you aren’t looking for a new opportunity, they might know a way to do something more efficiently that will help you in your current job.”
To wrap up our conversation, we asked what Shannon enjoys most about her line of work.
“For me, I really enjoy the innovation and ‘new-ness’ of what I’m doing. I really like bringing in new testing techniques, making improvements, and problem solving. And I can’t stress enough how NextCure provides such a unique opportunity to take ownership and learn the ins-and-outs of developing a therapeutic,” said Shannon.
“NextCure is still very much in the early stages. While we may not be as large as the major companies out there, we do have a robust pipeline and have filed 3 INDs with a 4th slated later this year. For a company that has only been in existence since 2016, that speaks highly of the management and employees. Being this size allows for employees to learn areas beyond your job description. If you’re eager to learn, this is the place for you.”
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Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz’s Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.