Thought Leadership Jan 19, 2023

Together We Transform: A Word from John Chapman

Jacobs Senior Architectural Technologist/Subject Matter Expert John Chapman shares the purpose that drives his work in designing manufacturing facilities for pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical products


My name is John Chapman and I’m a Senior Architectural Technologist and Subject Matter Expert at Jacobs in Cincinnati, Ohio. My expertise is in designing manufacturing facilities for pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical products.

I recently celebrated my 30th year at Jacobs. My earlier career prior to working for Jacobs ranged from government funded and private housing to retail, light warehousing and industrial work which was fun for a period but more and more of that work was becoming less and less satisfying.

I joined Jacobs at what was essentially the birth of biopharm as an industry. We were at the ground level – we’re talking about some of the early cancer drugs that were being produced as therapeutic substances for cancer patients – and it felt very satisfying. Contrast that with doing strip shopping centers only a few years previously, it was night and day as far as job satisfaction goes. There was – and still is – a very strong sense of purpose.

As an SME/Process Architect, I get involved at the beginning of projects with our pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical clients to assess what their needs are and then start to work with our process engineers to develop a layout for production facilities for the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical products; the medicine part of the product that would then ultimately find its way into vials, syringes, pills – whatever the delivery method might be.

In early 2020, as the pandemic was really starting to become apparent, AstraZeneca reached out to Jacobs for support in their battle against COVID-19. They had partnered with Oxford University and believed they had a vaccine showing promise but needed to search within their existing network of facilities for filling capabilities. We set out immediately to assist them in designing retrofits to an existing vial filling suite to allow for a conversion to filling vials of the COVID-19 vaccine. In a matter of months production began and millions of doses have since come out of that facility and shipped worldwide.

Many of the projects we work on at Jacobs have resulted in medicines and treatments that benefit people worldwide, including my family and friends.

About 10 years into my career with Jacobs I worked on a project for Wyeth, now Pfizer, who bought the licensing to produce a product called Enbrel for markets outside the United States and wanted to build a facility in Ireland to do so.  After a few years of intense design and construction they started producing Enbrel and because of high demand, that facility did not shut down for even a day for at least 15-16 years.

This project is particularly personal as I realized shortly after I joined Jacobs that I have a genetic defect. It manifests itself in different ways, for me it was occasional inflammation to one or both of my eyes, but fast forward several years and two of my three sons have the same genetic aberration and have been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis.

My oldest son had symptoms as early as high school and his back pain would interfere with his sporting activities. That pretty much passed but later he recognized he was having more of this inflammation and went to a rheumatologist after graduating college and was formally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis which is very similar to rheumatoid arthritis.

At about that same time my younger son was having similar problems and was soon diagnosed with the same condition. While my older son has been largely able to use a drug called Sulfasalazine to treat his symptoms, my younger son was having more trouble finding the right therapy to treat it and was in intense pain. I recall one occasion near the holidays being overcome seeing how difficult and painful it was for him to walk. He had to do a lot of very intense stretching and needed biologics to maintain a normal range of motion. After some trial and error, he ultimately settled on Enbrel and now has little to no side effects. He’s based in the States of course so it’s not coming directly from the facility I worked on in Ireland, but I feel proud and thankful that there are a lot of people getting the same benefit. Thankfully because of these products no one would know my sons have any problems. An injection once a week keeps things in check – it’s a small price to pay to regain full mobility and live without pain. This experience really struck home for me in a literal sense.

The work we do is beneficial to our clients but it’s also amazing to be one step removed from the real magic, sitting in on front-end meetings and gaining insight to promising therapies that could change peoples’ lives. I recently worked on an exciting project that’s making real breakthroughs in pinpointing genetic defects and repairing defective DNA. We’re moving beyond treating symptoms with therapies that lessen the consequences of those symptoms to actually fixing the problem by eliminating the disease.

There are other cell therapies that are getting close to doing the same for cancer, so seeing some of this progress makes me think, perhaps not in my lifetime, but I’m confident that soon we’re going to cure many major diseases that exist today.

Every job has its pros and cons, but when you recognize that you’re performing something that has a tangible benefit to society as a whole, it’s a great motivator to keep persevering to find the right solution. Another key benefit is working with a team that is similarly motivated and working toward that common goal.

About the author

John Chapman

John Chapman is Senior Architectural Technologist and Subject Matter Expert for Jacobs in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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