José Manuel (Manny) Otero, PhD
Full Name: José Manuel (Manny) Otero, Ph.D.
BE Degree: Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering
Research while at MIT: I was a researcher in the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), working with Jean-Francois P. Hamel/Linda Griffith/Douglas Lauffenburger.
My research was specifically evaluating oxygen transfer in novel cultivation systems for hybridoma production of IgG2a. It then led to various studies involving novel pO2 sensors, characterization of the Wave bioreactor, and implementation of a perfusion cell culture system, that at the time represented among the highest mammalian cell culture titers (>1013 cells/mL) while maintaining fairly constant cell specific IgG2a productivity.
What have you been up to since your BE days? Following MIT, I was hired as a Staff Biochemical Engineer in Fermentation & Cell Culture, Bioprocess R&D of Merck Research Labs. I spent ten years in that organization with increasing responsibility, ultimately becoming the Fermentation Development Lead, which included leading a group of 12 scientists and engineers responsible for development of all discovery, safety assessment, and Phase 1/2/3 vaccine candidates that employed a microbial expression system. In the course of those ten years, I was also a Merck Doctoral Fellow, and received a Ph.D. in chemical and biological engineering from Chalmers University of Technology, working with Professor Jens Nielsen on metabolic engineering and systems biology of S. cerevisiae for the overproduction of industrially relevant building block chemicals. In 2012, I became Director of Engineering, in Merck Manufacturing Division, and led significant process development initiatives in our live-virus vaccine portfolio of products, with a focus on varicella containing products (VARIVAX, ZOSTAVAX, and PROQUAD).
Most recently, 2014, I joined Seres Health, Inc., as Senior Director of Bioprocess Development & Manufacturing. Over the past century, antibiotics, changes in nutrition, and other environmental factors have dramatically altered the shape of the human microbiome. These microbial ecologies residing in and on the human body are now understood to be vital to our health. Seres Health is pioneering a new approach to fundamentally restore and maintain healthy microbiomes. The Company was conceived of and launched by VentureLabs, Flagship Ventures' Innovation Foundry, and has recruited the world’s leaders in the scientific and clinical aspects of the human microbiome.
Is there anything you learned during your time as a student in BE that still comes up in your work today? Being an early student of BE at MIT was absolutely essential to any success I’ve enjoyed today, not necessarily because of the specific technical content or training, but rather the approach to problem solving. In BE, we often have problems that when first presented are poorly defined, have limited information, require assumption building, boundary condition definition, and rationally based estimates to be developed. The ability to organize information, supplement where possible, and then create an infrastructure that enables problem solving, iteration, integration of both in vitro, in silico, and in vivo data sets is critical. I use these skills sets every day, particularly with a real focus on applying quantitative engineering skills to so many challenges that have yet to undergo that rigor.
Identify a problem of the world that is of particular concern to you? I feel a personal responsibility to develop therapeutic and medical solutions that not only undress unmet medical needs, but that the solutions developed are commercially viable and accessible to every single patient who needs them across the globe – independent of financial standing. Vaccines have been arguably the most cost-effective discovery against preventing human disease of the 20th century, with vaccine research continuing today at an aggressive pace. I believe new treatments that leverage and harness the understanding of the human microbiome present the same, if not better, opportunity that vaccine development presented over the last 100 years.
Could biological engineering be part of a solution to that problem? Absolutely! By definition we must engineer solutions that hold an understanding of the fundamental biology of both the target disease as well as the proposed therapeutic.
Where were you born and raised? Jackson Heights, Queens, New York
Where do you currently live? Medford, MA
What are you reading right now? I spend a tremendous amount of time reading autobiographies, and enjoying being a student of history, particularly of world leaders that have both succeeded and failed. I’m currently reading the autobiography of Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task.
Your motto? Lead It. Own It. Drive It.
I’m a problem solver, and no matter how difficult the challenge in front of you, whether technical or personal or other, you should always focus on the question, “What can I do to help?”