Kyla Britson attributes her early interest in a scientific career to her high school biology teacher, Mrs. Moertel, who has a passion for genetics due to the time she worked at the Mayo Clinic studying chromosomal abnormalities prior to starting her teaching career. When Britson began her undergraduate degree in Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she realized she had unique early exposure to the field thanks to Mrs. Moertel’s infectious passion and genetics coursework in high school.
After graduation, Britson attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and earned her doctoral degree following her thesis research on Inclusion Body Myositis in the graduate program for cellular and molecular medicine.
Next, Britson completed an ORISE fellowship with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The BARDA Research Participation Program is a fellowship hosted by an Interagency Agreement between Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
She first heard about the opportunity through the Professional Development and Career Office at Johns Hopkins. “The best advice I can give any graduate student is to make use of your university’s career services, especially if you want to look at careers outside of academia,” Britson said.
The Johns Hopkins Career Office had shared an email with the opportunity announcement, which caught her eye quickly. She was interested in the fellowship because it aligned with her research experience and future career goals. Additionally, Britson noted: “I've always been motivated by a desire to use my scientific training to benefit society, and BARDA’s mission to develop medical countermeasures for the protection of the nation is very aligned with that goal.”
Throughout her time in her fellowship at BARDA, she participated in the Antivirals and Antitoxins (AVAT) branch, which specifically supports the development of medical countermeasures to protect against the threats of anthrax, botulism, filoviruses (e.g. Ebola virus) and smallpox.
The overarching goals of Britson’s fellowship were to learn how medical countermeasures are developed and specifically how BARDA supports that process. She supported efforts within the AVAT portfolio, which allowed her to acquire a range of experiences within the field of medical countermeasure development, such as how drug products are developed at different stages and what regulatory pathways sponsors use to achieve FDA licensure. She has also gained experience in all stages of acquisition planning, including shadowing the technical evaluation of proposals and contract negotiations.
“During my fellowship, I’ve developed the project management experience and communication skills needed to effectively support the performance of our industry partners during contract execution,” Britson shared.
A typical day for Britson during her fellowship consisted of meetings with companies and BARDA subject matter experts to assess performance under contracts, review of contract deliverables such as study protocols, technical reports, or FDA submissions. Then, she divided her additional time between the side projects she supports for the AVAT branch, such as writing manuscripts and supporting interagency collaborations.
“My experience at BARDA as a fellow has been wonderful,” said Britson. She believes that ORISE fellowships are a unique way to apply scientific training into a non-academic space. Britson is impressed by the caliber of scientists that she gets to learn from and collaborate with. Her other favorite part of her fellowship is seeing the real-world impact of BARDA’s work.
“This has been abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. So many people at BARDA have worked—and still work—around the clock to ensure that vaccines and therapeutics are developed, manufactured and distributed in the country and internationally,” she said. “After years at the bench, it’s very rewarding to feel the work you’re supporting is directly helping people.”
Britson is currently going through the process of onboarding as a federal employee with BARDA and she has joined the AVAT branch as an Interdisciplinary Scientist.
The BARDA Research Participation Program is funded by DHHS and is administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.