Manufacturing the COVID-19 Vaccine

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An inaugural graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Master of Pharmaceutical Engineering degree program, Tejaswini Ramakrishna Hegde is working at her dream job at Moderna as part of the team that manufactures and distributes the COVID-19 vaccine worldwide. 

Hegde came to Illinois Tech with a background in chemical engineering, having earned a bachelor’s degree and worked as an associate scientist for over four years in India. She is very passionate about her field of work and saw the pharmaceutical engineering program as a way to specialize her skill set to prepare her for a career in the pharmaceutical industry. 

“The program attracted my attention because it was perfectly aligned with my interests,” says Hegde. “I wanted to strengthen my knowledge in pharmaceuticals and engineering, and I wanted to work with a diverse group of individuals in my areas of interest. The program had everything I had imagined.”

Hegde gained hands-on lab experience as a graduate research volunteer in Associate Professor Seok Hoon Hong’s lab, where she conducted experiments related to cell-free protein synthesis, an emerging technique that Hong has been working on to identify antimicrobial proteins for novel drug development. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Hegde says she developed an even deeper appreciation for the skills she was learning, knowing that when she graduated she could use them to actively contribute to drug development and stopping the spread. 

At Moderna, Hegde is doing just that. She’s a member of a manufacturing team that is producing the COVID-19 vaccine, specializing in mRNA technology, a new form of drug delivery. 

“I studied drug delivery, and now I'm using it here, so I’m really happy about that,” says Hegde. “My experience at Illinois Tech was enriching and instrumental in molding me. It helped me build a strong foundation in drug delivery, bioprocess, process control, pharmaceutical engineering, and more.”

Hegde says, “As a kid, I always thought I wanted to contribute to the development of humankind. I feel pharma is a pathway for me to pursue this dream as it gives me an opportunity to make a difference in human lives.”

She sees her professional growth as a lifelong process and says she will always center her goal of doing work that improves peoples’ lives. 

“I always like to mention a Swami Vivekananda quote,” she says. “He said, ‘Arise, awake, and stop not until the goal is reached.’ So I follow his path.”