The Wistar Institute and University of the Sciences in Philadelphia have joined forces to offer a unique graduate experience in the field of cancer biology and drug development.

Located on Penn’s campus at 3601 Spruce St., the institute is a biomedical research center that often collaborates with Penn and other universities on research projects.

Wistar and USciences took the initiative to build the new cancer biology graduate degree program in response to recent data from the National Institutes of Health indicating that Ph.D graduates should consider looking into alternative careers to academics.

“The academic pathway is kind of saturated right now,” said Wistar’s Director of Graduate Studies Jose Conejo-Garcia. “We want to equip people to succeed in other ways.”

In addition to the more traditional core curriculum, the integrated program will focus on translational research and drug discovery, as well as intellectual property and commercialization.

USciences Provost Russell J. DiGate said employers look for candidates who understand “the basic concepts of drug development and how a drug entity gets from the laboratory to the marketplace… having our students understand how that happens gives us a unique spin on the degree.”

Conejo-Garcia feels these innovative aspects will “cover a gap” present in similar programs, opening up occupational possibilities for successful candidates who will earn USciences Ph.Ds in cancer biology.

“We will train [students] so that, in the future when they graduate, they can decide whether they want to go for an academic pathway or they want to succeed as industrial researchers in drug discovery or drug optimization,” Conejo-Garcia said.

Biotechnology graduate student Neha Soni said these less common aspects of the program immediately caught her interest.

“The program is pretty interdisciplinary because they’ll be teaching about intellectual property and about how to commercialize it, so it’s not only how you have to do research in lab, but how you can further commercialize your IP to the industry,” Soni said.

Conejo-Garcia said the program will start with three accepted students this inaugural year and five the next year, with an eventual limit of around 30 total students.

“It will be something very selective to make sure we can provide the best training, the best education … to show them how to succeed,” he added.

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