Working in the Research & Development sector
13 May 2018
We had an interview with Luke D. Burke, PhD- Senior Research and Development Engineer, about his experiences within the medical devices industry.
I am Dr. Luke D. Burke, and I work as a R&D Engineer, in which I am an electrospinning expert and project leader for Xeltis B.V., a Dutch company producing the world’s first restorative synthetic heart valve. I work alongside the production team to develop and maintain electrospinning systems in the manufacturing of valves, as well as develop new products and applications of the Xeltis technology platform, both in-house and as part of academic, publicly-funded projects at Eindhoven University of Technology.
A workday as a R&D engineer looks very variable! Depending on the project, problem or latest development may mean its necessary to analyse data, write code, develop engineering solutions, perform root cause analyses, manufacture devices or contact suppliers – and often several of these projects will be on going simultaneously.
This can be a real strength as you are always learning something new and developing and rarely bored, but it does mean that sometimes you need to carefully prioritise and manage your time, rather than focusing on the most interesting or exciting task on your agenda.
The main reason I have chosen to work in the R&D sector is because it is always challenging, always engaging, and the people involved are fantastically talented. They are motivated, enthusiastic, and ultimately every contribution you make, however small, could have a massive positive effect.
I chose to work for Xeltis, because this company represents what I consider to be the most fascinating clinical application in restorative heart valve therapy in the world at the moment. The implantation of a complex, fully synthetic, functional device which is actively replaced by the body’s own tissue without ever losing functionality is something that I hoped I would maybe be able to see one day from a distance – to be able to say that I worked as part of the team that developed and implanted several such devices in patients is incredible, and the potential to apply the same technology to other healthcare applications is extremely exciting.
My direct involvement with the R&D sector in industry is somewhat limited, as the majority of my career so far was spent in academia completing my PhD research – however even during this phase I maintained links with industrial partners. I really enjoy the pace of commercial R&D, where the simplest creative approach is often preferred, rather than the development of highly technical and entirely novel solutions which tend to be preferred by academic endeavours.
Nowadays, I think the drive towards integration of academic developments and industrialisation remains a focus within the sector. The ability to commercialise and safeguard the outcomes of expensive product development programs whilst remaining connected to the fundamental knowledge continuously generated by the academic sector, without either party being disenfranchised is hugely important. Coming from a PhD/academic research program into industry I definitely found it difficult, being used to the academic principles to publicise as widely as possible and talk frequently about research breakthroughs and setbacks, the commercial R&D sector felt very different due to the necessary emphasis on confidentiality and protection of hard-won technical knowledge and IP. However, efforts to align the academic and commercial styles are growing from both sides, and I’m sure in the future both fields will be able to harness the positive elements of the other’s approach.
My dream is always to develop and bring a new product to the market to address an unmet need in the healthcare fields, or to develop a key aspect or technology which leads to the success of a new product to improve lives. My current position at Xeltis really helps make that dream a reality.
Do you also work in the Research & Development sector, and would you like to share your experiences? Let us know and send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org