Interview with Lampouguin Yenkoidiok Douti, Ph.D., Research Scientist at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Slaoui Center for Vaccine Research
Interviewed by Adeline Williams, NIAID Predoctoral Fellow, Molecular Entomology Unit, Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research
The “Career Pathways—Explore the Possibilities” series highlights different professions pursued by scientists like you. This interview focuses on a research scientist who transitioned to industry immediately following completion of a doctoral degree.
In 2020, Dr. Lampouguin Yenkoidiok Douti earned his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland as a part of the NIH Graduate Partnerships Program. Within NIAID, he was a predoctoral fellow in the Mosquito Immunity and Vector Competence Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research under the supervision of Carolina Barillas-Mury, M.D., Ph.D. Read this interview with Dr. Yenkoidiok Douti to learn more about his transition from graduate school to industry.
Tell us about your doctoral work at NIAID and the University of Maryland.
At NIAID, I worked on developing a malaria vaccine. Malaria is an infectious disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted by mosquitoes. I contributed to the identification of a new human-relevant malaria transmission-blocking vaccine antigen called Pfs47. I tested the immune responses to and potency of the vaccine in preclinical studies. I also worked at the University of Maryland under the supervision of my Ph.D. co-advisor Professor Christopher Jewel, Ph.D. In his lab, I worked on engineering a microneedle system for vaccine delivery, and I generated dissolving microneedles loaded with the Pfs47 vaccine. Microneedles are micro-scale projections that can be inserted into the skin like a patch or a bandage. Once the needles are applied to the skin, they dissolve and release the vaccine. This vaccine delivery technology can be easily deployed, and thus has the potential to make a big impact in targeting malaria because malaria is endemic in countries where access to medical care is limited.
How did you become interested in malaria research at NIAID?
I grew up in Togo, a West African country, and I became sick with severe malaria when I was young. I also lost a childhood friend to malaria. That’s how I initially became interested in developing a vaccine against malaria. When I moved to Maryland, I decided to join a malaria research lab, and that’s how I met Dr. Carolina Barillas-Mury.
What is your current role at your company?
I am currently a scientist at GSK. During my Ph.D., I was mostly working on preclinical studies performed in animal models or in vitro systems. At GSK, I am one step further down the pipeline: the vaccines and therapeutics I am testing are being prepared for human use. My team assesses the quality and safety attributes of clinical vaccines. For example, one of the things that I measure is the residual plasmid DNA contamination in the mRNA vaccine, which can affect the safety of a vaccine. We use this technical process knowledge to ensure that the vaccine meets established regulatory requirements. Given that science is evolving every day, new techniques are needed to establish the safety of new vaccines. I am also involved in developing new assays, which gives me a lot of room for creativity and growth.
What was the transition like from NIAID as a graduate student to a scientist at GSK? Was it an easy transition or were there a lot of challenges?
The transition to this position occurred in the middle of the pandemic. Given my training in vaccine development, I was eager to go out there and contribute. Where as a Ph.D. student I mostly worked with proteins, I work with RNA in my current position. RNA is one step behind protein, so I have had to spend a lot of time learning more about this area and learning new assays. Even though my area of focus has slightly shifted, the knowledge I acquired during my doctoral education was still applicable.
"That’s the beauty of my training at NIAID—I was exposed to a wide array of skills that helped me adapt quickly and work efficiently." - Lampouguin Yenkoidiok Douti, Ph.D.
Although as a Ph.D. student I had a decent amount of control and flexibility over my research, this is not the case in industry. Industry is a more business-oriented environment where you don’t always have much control over what will happen to your projects. As frustrating as that may sound, both of my principal investigators (PIs), as well as NIH as a whole, prepared me for life in industry. When I started my Ph.D., I told both of my PIs that I wanted to go into industry. Therefore, they gave me projects and advice that guided me toward my end goal. Having early conversations with my PIs helped me to mentally prepare for my current position. My PIs also helped prepare my expectations for industry. For example, when a project is done, it’s time to move to something new. More importantly, NIH offered multiple opportunities to meet people in industry through symposia, seminars, and career panels—NIAID was instrumental easing the transition into my career.
What are your favorite aspects of this role?
I am working on vaccines and therapeutics that will be used in human studies and potentially to prevent or treat diseases. This type of clinical work is a great achievement for me. My current position also allows me the opportunity to design new assays. Not all company positions allow such freedom. My managers encourage me to come up with new ideas, which is relaxing and exciting for me. I also have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with scientists in other departments to design and execute various development projects.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students interested in pursuing a career in industry?
One thing is to be interested in pursuing a career in industry, another is to know what you want to do in industry. Several opportunities are available in industry, so one needs to first take the time to reflect on personal goals. Once you have a basic or strong idea of what you want to do, you should connect with and talk to people in industry and ask them what they are working on and what their day-to-day life is like. Ensure that the people you talk to work in different areas of a business. This is usually a great opportunity to gather first-hand information to understand what you are interested in and what’s available out there. You will be surprised that there are positions in industry you never thought existed. You may hear about a type of job that may be exactly what you wanted to do.
For junior graduate students who already know that they want to join industry, I would advise them to have clear conversations with their advisors. This will help their advisors to effectively guide them during their training. For those who are undecided, I encourage them to attend several panels during the NIH career symposium. It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do, but you should know what you don’t want to do.
Is it okay if current NIAID fellows contact you with questions?
Yes, NIAID fellows can contact me at email@example.com.