Zhang Xinchun is a 2016 Food Science and Technology alumna of UIC who is currently busy with the preclinical research and development of cancer drugs in AbbVie, a famous American biopharmaceutical company. From food science to biopharmaceuticals, she has dared to cross over and jump out of her comfort zone and challenging herself to achieve even more possibilities.

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Zhang Xinchun currently works for AbbVie, a famous American biopharmaceutical company

In the summer of 2016, after graduating from UIC, Zhang Xinchun went to Georgetown University in the US to pursue a Master's degree in Biotechnology. Thanks to her strong English language ability and adaptability that she developed at UIC in addition to the foundation of biochemistry she obtained during her undergraduate studies, Zhang Xinchun slowly but surely got the hang of studying in the US.

After adapting to a new learning life, Zhang Xinchun jumped out of her comfort zone once again and took the initiative to find herself an internship opportunity. With the recommendation of her supervisor, she entered the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Georgetown University as an intern. There, she learned how to use liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyse pesticide residues in food and was able to show the results at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Chemical Society with her supervisor.

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Zhang Xinchun (centre back) with colleagues during an internship at Georgetown University

During the internship, Zhang Xinchun also studied sample analysis and data processing in drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. This internship experience gave her a chance to stay in university after graduation, and also helped pave the way for her to join the pharmaceutical industry.

After graduating with a Master's degree, Zhang Xinchun gave up the opportunity to stay in University and instead chose to work for a medical contract research organisation in San Francisco to carry out in-vitro experiments and in-vivo sample analysis experiments that support early drug development and screening. This work experience allowed her to process first-line experimental data, cultivate a keen insight into data, and have a more comprehensive understanding of the experimental principles and specific operations of pharmacokinetics.

To deepen her understanding of the pharmaceutical industry, Zhang Xinchun later joined another biopharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area and participated in the company's core project, which was sickle cell anaemia drug research. She witnessed the process of the new drug for the treatment of sickle cell anaemia from the clinical phase III to the approval to enter the market. She jointly promoted the preclinical research and development progress of the second-generation new drugs.

Sickle cell anaemia is a rare disease, and the new drugs bring hope to patients, which has greatly encouraged Zhang Xinchun. This encouragement has also turned her stress into motivation and is more committed to her work.

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Zhang Xinchun hopes to use her learning to play a greater role as she considers drug research and development a "battlefield" against disease. In January 2020, Zhang Xinchun joined AbbVie biopharmaceutical company and was mainly engaged in preclinical research and development of cancer drugs.

Currently, Zhang Xinchun is involved in the optimisation of an oral anti-lymphatic cancer drug that is already on the market and is studying new possibilities for anti-lymphatic cancer drugs. She experimented the changes and absorption of drugs under the action of animals. This is an important task for screening drug candidates in early drug development.

Zhang Xinchun said that in the next four to five years, she plans to continue to study pharmacokinetics while increasing her understanding of this field and the accumulation of knowledge and experience, and hopes to use her studies to make contributions to the pharmaceutical industry.

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It took a lot of effort to enter the field of biotechnology from the field of food science explained Zhang Xinchun; however, her background also gave her a different perspective. In her undergraduate major, she established a complex knowledge system in physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, and analytical chemistry. During the undergraduate research training and thesis publication, she enlightened her scientific thinking and cultivated her scientific literacy.

When she was in UIC, Zhang Xinchun started undergraduate scientific research in her third year and eventually published an SCI paper after her graduation.

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Zhang Xinchu with her supervisor Prof Xu Baojun at the DST poster presentation

Zhang Xinchun suggested that the younger students should understand the industries they want to pursue in advance and focus on mastering relevant courses in college; after graduation, they must be down-to-earth, rigorous and honest in their work, accumulate knowledge and upgrade skills, and always be prepared to pay attention to different career opportunities.

Translator: Lauren Richardson
Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He
(from MPRO)