Ph.D. Students Receive Research Internships at Eli Lilly, Merck

Four University of Miami students, including three from the Miller School, will gain valuable experience at the prominent companies this year.

The prestigious Eli Lilly and Merck research labs will have a common element for 2024—interns from Ph.D. programs at the University of Miami and Miller School of Medicine. The university will have twice as many Ph.D. interns this year as last, demonstrating the high regard in which its graduate students are held.

Abdiel Badillo-Martinez (neuroscience), Ifedi Anikpo (epidemiology) and Joan Glenny Pescov (molecular and cellular pharmacology) will intern with Eli Lilly. Melissa Franklin (biomedical engineering) will intern at Merck.

From left: Abdiel Badillo-Martinez, Joan Glenny Pescov and Ifedi Anikpo
From left, Abdiel Badillo-Martinez, Joan Glenny Pescov and Ifedi Anikpo will be interning with Eli Lilly this year.

“We’re so proud of our students! It’s great to provide support for these future scientists and help them explore their passions and career paths,” said Ana Fiallos, Ph.D., director of career services for graduate studies. “The vital experience gained by our interning students will help them decide whether an academic or industry path is right for them, along with gaining many transferable skills they will learn throughout this process.”

Cardiovascular Therapies Through Pharmacology

Each fall, the Miller School’s Office of Graduate Studies hosts leading pharmaceutical companies to support the career aspirations of its graduate students. Anikpo met with Eli Lilly and was offered an internship this fall in its Department of Clinical Deliverables and Design Analytics.

Anikpo’s research at the Miller School’s Department of Public Health focuses on pharmacoepidemiology, the branch of epidemiology concerned with drug development and outcomes. He researches how medications affect the cardiovascular health of people with chronic conditions, including risk factors, health outcomes, disparities in care and prevention of complications,

“I think we can all agree that the biopharmaceutical industry has a huge influence on the general population’s health,” Anikpo said. “This industry has always been an interesting career option for me, not only because I am in public health but also because one of my major research endeavors is in pharmacoepidemiology.”

Before Anikpo started his Ph.D. program, he worked in clinical medicine and public health research. But his résumé lacked experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

“This experience, thanks to the Miller School’s career services, is a perfect opportunity to learn all I need to know about working in the industry,” Anikpo said. “In terms of science, I want to gain experience in clinical trials, a major part of drug development. I am also looking forward to expanding my professional network through the different forums and events we would be exposed to during the internship.”

Tailored Goals in Research Management

Badillo-Martinez isn’t new to high-level internships. In addition to his upcoming experience with Eli Lilly, he previously interned at the National Institutes of Health. In his current project, under the mentorship of Hassan Ali, Ph.D., M.S.M., an associate professor of neurological surgery and medicine, Badillo-Martinez focuses on the growth of nerve fibers as potential therapies for injuries in the central nervous system.

“I have been fortunate to work with excellent research groups and mentored by amazing scientists who have taken the time and interest to invest in my training,” Badillo-Martinez said. “I have tailored my career decisions to match my goals of becoming a lead scientist in drug discovery and development, with Eli Lilly being one of them.”

As an intern, Badillo-Martinez is excited to continue growing as a researcher. As part of the program, he wants to gain exposure to the operation and workflow of drug discovery and development, as he greatly appreciates the value of organizing and executing project goals.

“At Eli Lily, I want to learn their standards for project management and begin building upon those skills,” Badillo-Martinez said. “Proteomics and utilizing assays that quantify target engagement are critical to my graduate work, so I am hopeful to get hands-on experience in assay development and to learn more about bioinformatic tools to analyze proteomic results.”

Merging Neuroscience and Engineering

As a senior graduate student, Franklin has been first author on several scientific papers and attended conferences by the National Institutes of Health. Her research, in collaboration with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, evaluates and improves the biological responses to microelectrodes implanted in the brain. These microelectrodes allow computers to talk with the brain and restore motor function to people with neural injuries and neuromotor disorders.

Ph.D. student Melissa Franklin
Melissa Franklin will be interning with Merck this year.

“I wanted an opportunity to learn something new and different outside of my dissertation work to be a well-rounded scientist,” Franklin said. “I also want to understand better the differences between completing research within a large company’s setting versus in an academic environment. This way, I can make a more informed decision and better assess my next steps following my degree.”

With Merck’s Neuroscience/Neuropharmacology Research and Development teams, Franklin evaluates drug targets that promote synaptogenesis, a process that grows, maintains and eliminates neurons’ synapses. She is also characterizing biomarkers that indicate synaptic changes within neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative animal models.

Tags: Miller School of Medicine, Office of Graduate Studies