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hanging people's lives it's what Bob
Kenyon does for a living. No, he is not a
superhero from Krypton, or a billionaire
philanthropist. Kenyon, a Middlesex alumnus,
is the Vice President of Manufacturing for
Biogen IDEC.
Twenty-one years ago, unemployed and
unsure of his next step, Kenyon enrolled in
MCC's Biotechnology Program, opening a
window into a world of opportunity he never
knew existed, leading to a successful and
rewarding career with an industry leader.
For more than 30 years, Biogen has been
developing, manufacturing and marketing
drugs to fight neurodegenerative,
hematologic and autoimmune diseases
like multiple sclerosis, hemophilia and ALS.
"It's easy to lose sight of things when you
sit through 12 meetings in a row. But then,
a little boy comes in and tells us one of our
drugs is making it easier for him control his
hemophilia and is allowing him to be a
regular kid, and you tear up a little,"
Kenyon said during a recent interview in
his Cambridge office.
"That's what it's about a little boy who just
wants to play soccer like the other kids. It is
about the patients."
Kenyon wasn't always so passionate
about the biotech industry. His career path
had a rocky beginning before leading him to
Middlesex. "It all started with some guy on
Jackson Street in Lowell saying, `Hey, you
should go into biotech'," Kenyon said.
He graduated from Chelmsford High School in
1985 and enrolled at the University of Lowell
to study business. He dropped out after his
sophomore year and went to work as a finish
carpenter, building houses with his brother,
Bill, until the economy crashed.
His father, a program manager at Raytheon,
got him a job on the assembly line building
missiles. Four years into that gig, defense
spending dried up and he found himself
taking advantage of the Economic
Dislocation and Worker Adjustment
Assistance Act, a federal program for
dislocated defense workers.
Following extensive aptitude testing, his
counselor (that guy on Jackson Street),
suggested Kenyon look into biotechnology.
The federal program offered to pay for
him to enroll in MCC's Biotechnology
Certificate Program.
The first of its kind among two-year colleges
in Massachusetts, the Middlesex Biotech
Program was established in 1990 at the
urging of U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas. There
are currently 200 students enrolled in the
program, which has been awarded a Platinum
endorsement from the Massachusetts Life
Sciences Education Consortium.
"It was a small group of students, we all got
to know each other well," Kenyon said of
the certificate program. "The foundation we
received at Middlesex was very helpful. It
was set up to really help us understand what
is done in the business."
At the conclusion of the six-month program,
in October 1994, he was placed in an
internship on the manufacturing floor at
Biogen. Eleven months later, he was hired full
time, working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. overnight
manufacturing shift. There were 30 people
working in manufacturing at that time.
Today there are 1,000.
Kenyon continued his education, earning
his associate degree from Middlesex in
1996, and in 2000 his bachelor's degree in
biomedical laboratory and clinical sciences
from Boston University.
"Middlesex really set me up well it was
a fun way to go to school," he said. "I was
learning concepts about the business in the
classrooms and in the labs, and then going
to work at night and seeing it all in practice.
That made it more interesting and made a
big impact on how I was able to learn.
"I really took to manufacturing this
intersection of biology and engineering,"
Kenyon said. "It was like I had found
my home."
Kenyon worked his way up the ranks at
Biogen, becoming Director of Manufacturing
in March 2004. Four years later, he was part
of an interesting experiment: He was asked
to trade jobs with Director of Quality John
Dirienzo. Kenyon went to quality, Dirienzo
to manufacturing.
"It was like bizarro world," Kenyon said,
laughing. "It was really eye-opening and a
great education to see the business from the
quality side," he said.
Two years later, Kenyon was named Director
of BioPharm Development, working on the
development of drugs like Avonex and
Plegrity, both used to treat re-occurring
multiple sclerosis. In August 2013, he was
named Vice President of Manufacturing.
"In my mind, I'm still the guy in the plant
pushing buttons and pulling levers," he
Biotech Alum Works His Way Up the
Manufacturing Ranks at Biogen IDEC
Robert Kenyon (Class of 1996)
Alumni Profile