Jake Langbein ’21
Internship: Merck & Co; originally Philadelphia, PA (remote through summer)
Hometown: Richboro, Pennsylvania
Favorite Yale SOM Class: State and Society
Clubs and Affiliations: Yale Healthcare Case Competition (Co-President), Yale Healthcare Conference 2020 (Finance Chair), Yale Provost Advisory Committee on Accessibility Resources, Chief Executive Leadership Institute (Research Assistant), CDO Career Advisor
Favorite New Haven eatery: Shell and Bones Grill
Fun Fact: As a nine-year old kid I helped to trial Disney World’s early accessibility efforts for deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers and was rewarded with advance access to the Magic Kingdom as a giddy and over-sugared feedback provider.
I spent my summer working as an intern on the Global Vaccines Strategy team at Merck. My team typically focuses on above-brand, portfolio-level strategies and projects affecting all of Merck’s vaccine products, both existing and under development. From combating vaccine hesitancy to driving partnership strategy with GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance), the team’s remit focuses on increasing vaccination rates and minimizing the human toll of preventable diseases.
A vast majority of my summer work centered on developing the organization’s strategy for managing its portfolio pipeline of COVID-19 assets, two vaccines and one antiviral treatment. This involved monitoring the competitive landscape of vaccine and drug development, analyzing scientific studies, and helping to craft a set of principles/guardrails to guide Merck’s decision-making on funding development and procurement.
Coordination was no small part of this effort. Creating the infrastructure and processes to make decisions not just across business lines but across countries was essential. As we worked toward ensuring global access, I was able to deepen some of my learnings from State and Society in particular, understanding how the different political constructs of a given country necessarily affected Merck’s strategic choices.
Although COVID-19 was both the focal point and the omnipresent specter at the backdrop of my internship, I worked on several other initiatives that were more characteristic of the team’s normal work. In conjunction with some brilliant colleagues from Merck’s Research Labs, I developed a business case for a massive investment in a proprietary manufacturing technology that the team had already patented. It was humbling—and fascinating!—to work with scientists who had spent more than 10 years of their life perfecting this technology. Together, we collaborated to secure leadership approval to operationalize it at scale.
On the delivery side of vaccines, I helped work with many of Merck’s different disease areas to think through vaccination visions for the future, including new customer journeys and alternative methods/technologies to better deliver products to customers in need. Starting from the core consumer need (as was emphasized in our Customer class), it was fun to take an unconstrained approach to problem solving a longstanding issue.
Even in a virtual environment, I left with a strong grasp and appreciation of Merck’s culture as everyone opened their calendars for a virtual coffee. People’s general willingness to meet was best analogized to the enthusiastic responses I typically get from Yale SOM alumni. As an intern, people were eager to share their time and experiences to help me glean a better understanding of the many different departments within Merck. More formally, the HR team supporting my internship arranged for an almost weekly series of speakers and fireside chats with executives across the organization, providing a great opportunity to network and hear where leaders were focusing their time, energy, and resources.
Indubitably, the highlight of the summer was the opportunity to learn from incredible colleagues across the company. I loved being able to converse with (read: listen eagerly to) experts in the field as they patiently expounded upon the rudiments of molecular biology that would help me do my job better. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to play a very small part in supporting Merck’s early development of a viable vaccine candidate for COVID-19. It was an awesome and entirely unpredicted experience in which I was able to better comprehend the complexity of developing a vaccine (or two) that could potentially help restore some semblance of normalcy to the world.