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New Rensselaer Degree in Biotechnology and Health Economics
New York Ag Connection - 09/15/2020

A new program in Biotechnology and Health Economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will equip students destined for a science-based career with the quantitative and modeling knowledge in economics needed to succeed in industry and consulting.

Led by the Rensselaer School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and developed in cooperation with the School of Science, the biotechnology and health economics program is a unique major inspired by the New Polytechnic, the interdisciplinary model for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer.

"We firmly believe that the leaders of tomorrow need to be grounded not only in the STEM disciplines, but also have the habits of mind characteristic of study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences," said Mary Simoni, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

"This new program is a manifestation of this belief and is a programmatic instantiation of the vision of the New Polytechnic."

The curriculum is designed for students of biochemistry and biophysics, biological sciences, physics, and chemistry and chemical biology who wish to add expertise in economics to a strong foundation in math, biology, chemistry, and data analytics. It was organized by George Makhatadze, associate head of the Department of Biological Sciences, and Vivek Ghosal, head of the Department of Economics.

"This is an attractive option for students who want a strong science education but may be looking beyond a career as a bench scientist," said Makhatadze, a Constellation Professor in Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, and a member of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. "The curriculum gives a solid training in science combined with the perspective of business and economic issues."

According to Ghosal and Makhatadze, this combination of skills in complementary areas of biotechnology, sciences, and economics is increasingly in demand in industry and consulting. Skilled and quantitatively trained personnel are often required to analyze not only the scientific side and emergence of new technologies, but also the economic implications for firms related to their pricing, investment, and innovation strategies, as well as the interface with economic and regulatory policy.

"We can offer students of science a more complete picture of the business they are entering, of the complex interface between scientific progress and the economics on the ground," said Ghosal, the Virginia and Lloyd W. Rittenhouse Professor. "It positions them to accelerate their careers in the workplace and gives them the flexibility to move easily between the scientific side and the economic side of biotechnology and health industries."

The biotechnology landscape is increasingly complex, as progress can often come with a price. Newly developed drugs are capable of curing fatal diseases, but sometimes the price of just a single dose can cost in the millions of dollars.

"From the science side, you may be able to get to a curative therapy, but economically, can you charge that price? Companies, and the people who lead them, need to have a more holistic view of what they're doing, and this program prepares them for that future," Ghosal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, underscores the close relationship between science and economic policy in healthcare. Graduates of the new program, which was developed before the current health crisis, will be well positioned to understand the challenges of producing treatments and vaccines, how information technology is used to accelerate innovation, and various policies designed to incentivize firms to certain outcomes, among other key issues.


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