ANNIE CRUZ

A little girl sits cross-legged, devouring a series of books about the earth. Captivated, she continues with the history of dinosaurs, one page at a time.

"I distinctly remember looking at descriptions of the earth's core thinking, ‘How do you know this??' It was in that moment that I decided I had to know more."

HER FIRST CHAPTER

Growing up in the Philippines, Annie Cruz was no stranger to scientific events. Earthquakes were a common occurrence, but fear of these events turned into fascination once she could read. "I could finally understand where the earthquakes were coming from and I was riveted. From there, I started exploring everything around me, whether it was photos of cross-sections of the earth or the parts of the flowers in my family's garden."

Annie credits her family for her love of reading. "Both my parents and my aunt were teachers, and I have another aunt that was a librarian, so there was no way I was going to be anything other than a perpetual student." She continues,

"I REMEMBER WHEN MY MOM, A READING TEACHER, WOULD COACH HER STUDENTS. I WOULD BE THERE IN THE BACKGROUND, PEEKING, LOOKING, LISTENING."

Over time, Annie became part of the teaching experience when her mom began testing out new lessons on her to decide if they were the right level of difficulty. Her dad, a shop teacher and avid gardener, would bring books home from work and let her borrow them, as literature was in short supply in their rural town. "Growing up in the Philippines you don't get a lot of access to books and I had never seen these books before. It was very exciting. Most people don't ever have those kinds of resources handed to them, so I was extremely lucky that I did." Her dad even tried to pass along his skills in the garden. She laughs, "I learned what to plant but I did not inherit his green thumb."

VENTURING OUT

While education was very important in Annie's family, leaving the country to obtain it was not common. So, for many years she continued her education in the Philippines, eventually pursuing her masters in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines.

A professor in her doctorate program, however, inspired her to think about broader opportunities. Annie began exploring schools in Australia and the United States until finally she decided to attend the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "My dad was not happy, as he wanted me to settle in the Philippines, but at the time it was very difficult to conduct research there. The kinds of experiments you could consider were very limited - mostly very simple purification processes. The problems that I wanted to solve needed more finesse ... and high powered equipment that wasn't available there." Promising her parents she would return, she set off to finish her doctorate.

"My intention was to leave and learn and then bring what I learned back to the Philippines. I planned to return and either teach or continue with research."


A CHANGE IN PLANS

Plans changed when she met her husband and decided to stay put; choosing to make the U.S. her home, she turned her attention to career opportunities that would enable her to have a direct impact on patients. "My post-doc was based on understanding Alzheimer's, but I was so far removed from what was really happening with the patient, and I realized it was important to me to know that my work has a real and immediate impact on people." She soon found her niche at Regeneron in the Industrial Operations and Product Supply (IOPS) team in Rensselaer, where she is responsible for ensuring the quality of Regeneron medicines.

"Ultimately, my job today is about addressing problems that may arise during manufacturing of our products and using scientific investigation to solve them," she explains. "We are constantly generating information to ensure that we have control over our manufacturing processes, which includes minimizing sources of process variabilities, for example screening raw materials for consistency." Annie's role also includes pioneering new technologies to ensure the group is always on the cutting-edge of manufacturing - part of the IOPS "continuous improvement" mindset. While not interacting with patients on a daily basis, she loves that her work directly impacts them.

"IN IOPS, WE ALWAYS SAY THAT THE NEXT STOP AFTER OUR TEAM IS IN THE HANDS OF PATIENTS, SO WE APPROACH OUR WORK WITH AN EXTREME AMOUNT OF CARE."

Today, while her day no longer allows for hours of reading, she still finds time to both learn and teach. Early in morning she can be founding chasing her daughter Elianna around the house, hunting down shoes and hurrying out the door. "I have high hopes for meditation, but it doesn't happen as often as I'd like," she jokes.

Grabbing breakfast in the car, she is at her desk early to meet with her team to identify obstacles and troubleshoot them together. Frequently juggling many responsibilities, the team shares a mindset.

"You need to have a certain amount of flexibility. No matter what is on your plate, you must be able to respond at a moment's notice and shift gears."

Hopping from building to building throughout the day she is constantly brainstorming solutions across Regeneron's vast pipeline. "We deal with a lot of proteins at any given time, so you need to have both an in-depth knowledge of each program and be able to translate that knowledge across programs."

She describes the culture as exciting and fast-paced,"Here, you need to be able to think fast and act fast." Recalling one her first projects which she assumed she would have a month to complete, "I found out I had three days. It was definitely trial by fire."

Annie still finds time to apply the skills her parents taught her. "Regeneron is constantly expanding and we have a lot of new people coming in on a daily basis. I see this as an opportunity to share my knowledge with them, to explain the ‘why.' The skills of being a teacher can really be applied anywhere, as long as you are trying to communicate what you've learned with other people."

Home at the end of a long day, she at times checks in on the evening operations remotely to ensure all the equipment is humming as it should.

FROM SCIENCE TO MEDICINE

Annie defines success not by any one metric, but by a willingness to learn. "Any opportunity for me to learn different things and be able to integrate what I have learned in new situations is my vision... wherever that may be."

She encourages others to do the same, reminding us that, "It's not always about intelligence. It's about reading, learning, applying it and not being afraid to make mistakes. Rise above that and recognize that the best achievements aren't always a spark of brilliance: there's great beauty in a work in progress."