An Unexpected Outcome from a Career Day

The work of an alumna impacts a current student

After finishing the tour with Vertex, Amanda Murphy (left) is pictured with Sharon Nicholas (patient advocacy), December 2, 2019, at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

This year has been a challenging year for many people. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, routines and habits have changed.

As for me, living with cystic fibrosis has always created ups and downs with my health and life in general. But the disease will not stop me from achieving my goals and dreams.

Over a year ago, Abington High School hosted a career day. Members of the Abington community came to share information about their occupations.

The event started by introducing those who came and what their career was. I was sitting in the audience and heard Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced. I was confused and looked at my friend to see if she heard what I heard.

I texted my mom with excitement, letting her know that an engineer from Vertex Pharmaceuticals was at career day.

Pullquote Photo

That Career Day in 2019 was life changing for me.

— Amanda Murphy

Vertex is a global company that creates new medications to cure diseases and improve the lives of people with life-threatening diseases.

One of the first medications for cystic fibrosis was discovered and developed by Vertex to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis.

Emily Wakelin, an Abington High School Class of 2006 graduate and an engineer from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, shared a PowerPoint about her path of graduating from Abington to how she became involved in engineering and what her career in the pharmaceutical field at Vertex is like.

After Abington, Wakelin graduated from Villanova in 2010 and moved around the country, working as an engineer for different pharmaceutical companies. She wanted to work in Boston where there were a lot of pharmaceutical companies, and Vertex was at the top of her list. In 2018 she started working there.

During her presentation, Wakelin asked the audience if anyone knew what cystic fibrosis was. I ended up answering the question.

Before working at Vertex, Wakelin said she did not know a lot about cystic fibrosis. But Working at pharmaceutical companies has helped me learn more about different diseases,” Wakelin said.

She now oversees the manufacturing process and sees the equipment that makes the Cystic Fibrosis medication in real time. “On a daily basis, 600,000 tablets are made. I have never worked at a company that only made tablets. Vertex’s mission statement really inspired me,” Wakelin said.

For seventeen years, ever since the minute I was born, I have been battling cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease. Cystic fibrosis and I have had our ups and downs, from great experiences to long stays in the hospital.

After the presentation was done, I stayed to talk to Wakelin about my life with cystic fibrosis. She set up a date for me to get a tour of Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston.

In December of 2019, a few months after the Career Day when I first met Wakelin, I was able to schedule a visit with her at Vertex in Boston’s seaport district.

Amanda Murphy pictured with Emily Wakelin during her tour of Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston. (Amanda Murphy, personal photo.)

At the headquarters, my mom and I met Wakelin, our tour guide Sharon Nicholas, and two men visiting from Vertex in Sweden. Before touring the laboratories, we had to put on a lab coat and glasses.

Our first stop on the tour was to see the biology laboratory. We got to see all the equipment Vertex uses and how they determine how a new medication will react to the human body.

It was fascinating to see all the petri dishes that were used to hold cells. Some of the dishes were complex compared to the petri dishes that we use in our high school science classes.

Makeshift organs are also created to see how a new drug will react to the cells of a person with cystic fibrosis.

After learning how scientist use biology to develop new drugs, we went on to see how chemistry is used at Vertex. Chemists have many factors when developing a new drug. They have to consider how it will react to the light, if the pill has a taste, what will happen if the pill falls on the floor, and many more considerations.

One of the chemists that we met took part in creating another drug made by Vertex called Symdeko which is a drug similar to Trikafta.

On January 3, 2020, I officially received Trikafta in the mail. I was excited not only because of the benefits from this medication, but I was able to see and meet people at Vertex where the medication was created.

Murphy in January of 2020 with her first package of Trikafta. (Amanda Murphy, family photo)

After I took my first morning dose of Trikafta, my body began to react fast. I had a headache, symptoms of a head cold, and was coughing a lot more than normal. Trikafta was doing exactly what my doctor claimed it would do.

Almost a month later, I went into Boston Children’s Hospital for a research study involving Trikafta. One of the major results from taking Trikafta was that my Pulmonary Function Test levels increased dramatically.

Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) measure lung volume, capacity of air, rates that air flow throughout the lungs, and gas exchange. Compared to my old PFT results, my new results were impressive.

From Dec. of 2019 to Feb. of 2020 the percentage of my results increased by 13 percent, from 84 percent to 97 percent.

Now a little more than a year after starting Trikafta I am doing great. Luckily, I have stayed healthy even with the events from the pandemic. I am still involved with the study for Trikafta, but it has been postponed due to Covid-19.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Wakelin and I have kept in contact using FaceTime or Zoom.

Wakelin and Addison Rubenstein, also from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, even came to see me in Feb. of 2020 when I signed a letter of intent with the Stonehill College Volleyball team through Team Impact, a non-profit organization that pairs kids with living with rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis, as honorary, active members of college athletic teams.

Recently on April 7, I was fortunate enough to reconnect through Zoom with Wakelin.

That Career Day in 2019 was life changing for me. I met an Abington High School alumna who works at the company that helps me live with cystic fibrosis. Because of that encounter I also got to tour the facilities of the company who makes the pills I take and meet employees working to change the lives of people like me with cystic fibrosis.

Now when I am taking my tablets made by Vertex, I know the process of how it was made and that a person who graduated from my high school is involved in it.