25 November 2021
The English-language bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Pécs, starting next September, promises knowledge in demand worldwide, a wide variety of career paths and concrete industrial experience during the course of studies. The course is unique in the country; we have discussed the possibilities it offers and the importance of biotechnology with Dr Judit Pongrácz, head of both the Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Department and the new course.
written by Miklós Stemler
Few people outside the experts in the field are probably aware of how much of our lives are affected by biotechnology, an interdisciplinary field combining biology, biochemistry, information technology and engineering sciences. Biotechnology and highly skilled biotechnologists are essential to modern vaccine production, but this is just one example; equally vital is the work of such professionals in agriculture, food and almost every aspect of healthcare. The biotechnology BSc course starting in September 2022 in Pécs will be the first step into this dynamically developing and highly flexible discipline, building on decades of tradition in biotechnology education and research, and in Pécs and its rich industrial links.
The Medical School in Pécs has been offering an English-language Master’s program in biotechnology since 2010, says Dr Judit Pongrácz, who played a key role in the launch of the MSc program and then led it until 2017. Shortly after the launch of the MSc, there was a proposal to add a bachelor’s degree, but the circumstances only became suitable now.
“Already after the launch of the MSc program, we saw that it would be good to have a course that would give students coming to the Master’s program a solid foundation, as the first semester was largely spent bringing students from different fields to the same level. However, to justify its existence not only as an entry point to the Master’s program, but also as a competitive knowledge program in its own right, it was necessary to have the huge development of the biotechnology industry.”
Of course, this development did not start in the last 10 years, but it is now so far advanced that biotechnology permeates almost every aspect of industry and life. “It would be almost impossible to list all the applications and uses of biotechnology, and there are so many uses that we might not even think of. It is perhaps obvious that the health industry, whether it is the production of pharmaceuticals or research into cures for cancer, cannot function without biotechnology, but probably far fewer people know how important biotechnology is, for example, in the area of food supply and food safety.
We are not talking here about eating artificially produced products thanks to biotechnology, which is not genetic modification, but quite the opposite: it is how we can extract artificial substances from food and find harmful substances. Similarly, in agriculture, biotechnology is the way to ensure that crops are free from contamination, and we must not forget that biotechnology is the way to ensure that the world's growing population has access to sufficient and adequate food. To give a very concrete and relevant example, the production of meat substitutes, which are becoming increasingly popular today, is unthinkable without biotechnology.” - says Judit Pongrácz.
There is therefore a huge demand for well-trained biotechnologists, and the extensive biotechnology research and industrial links in Pécs guarantee that students graduating from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Pécs can acquire up-to-date knowledge and even start working during their university years. The number of opportunities is almost endless. There are several areas of high-level biotechnological research and development at the university, one of the leaders being the Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, led by Judit Pongrácz, where, among other things, bioprinting, i.e. the production of living three-dimensional tissue, is being carried out. Both the Medical School and the János Szentágothai Research Centre provide ample opportunities, and the biotechnology MSc course is a logical direction for further education.
And these are just the local options: thanks to the high level of industrial connections, students graduating in Pécs will be welcomed by biotech companies in the wider region. “Our region - and I'm talking about the region on the other side of the border, the region of Osijek - is an important food industry centre, where there are plenty of opportunities for a food biotechnologist. It’s no coincidence that one of the largest food biotech companies, Foss, a food testing company, is based here and offers a great career opportunity for our future students.
Biotechnologists are also needed in the dairy, beer and even wine industries. Students who complete the bachelor’s degree will therefore acquire marketable knowledge, while they will also have the opportunity (after finishing the biotechnology MSc as well) to take part in the doctoral course planned in cooperation with Foss, which will allow them to take up high-level research and development positions - or stay in academia. Students can also get a taste of the workplace during their training through internships of six weeks to several months in different companies and decide whether to start working immediately after graduation or continue their studies."
Other developments at the University of Pécs mean other exciting opportunities. One of these is the biomechanical engineering course, bringing engineering and healthcare knowledge together, for which the biotechnology BSc provides an excellent foundation, and large-scale equipment developments mean that more and more laboratories need biotechnologists to operate the devices. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry is also a career option, as it is no coincidence that the Faculty of Pharmacy is the host of the course: biotechnologists play a vital role in the production and development of modern medicines.
The BSc in Biotechnology in Pécs is unique in the country in that it is taught in English, which has important practical reasons and advantages. “Biotechnology is developing at a tremendous pace and English is the professional language. This means that the translation of literature and course material is always at least one step ahead of the current developments, which means that truly up-to-date knowledge can be acquired by training in English - not to mention that English is the working language in many biotech companies and will be used to a high level by our graduates,” explains the head of the program.
So, who is a biotechnology education for? According to Judit Pongrácz, those who have a wide range of scientific and technical interests, since biotechnology intersects different fields, from biology to chemistry, physics and computer science.
“I think a BSc in biotechnology is ideal for open-minded students who are interested in many things and don’t want to commit to one direction just yet, because as you’ve hopefully already discovered, a biotechnologist can do and be many things: research cures for serious diseases, work on cleaning up farmland, ensure food safety, make craft beers, and the list is almost endless. To see what you can do with these skills and knowledge, you need to know the possibilities, and that's what we want to provide in our training, whether it’s in pharmaceutical, medical or environmental biotechnology. We welcome those who are sufficiently open and ready to learn a wide range of knowledge so that together we can cultivate what I think is a fantastic discipline.”
There is already no shortage of interested students, with a number of domestic and international students expressing an interest in continuing their studies here from September 2022. And the 48 new biotechnology students in Pécs will be welcomed by the renovated pharmacy and medical school buildings and world-class laboratory facilities.
Application and admission process: admissions.medschool.pte.hu/biotechnology-bsc