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June 2009 Issue

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Complicated Degree Offers Varied Paths to Success

By Katie Pence
Published June 2009

“Pharmacology and Cell Biophysics? What can you do with a degree from a department like that?”
Ronald Millard, professor and head of undergraduate research training in the department of pharmacology and cell biophysics at UC, says “a lot.”

Many people are confused about what the doctoral degree means and the variety of ways it can be applied in the workforce.

“Many people think it is a pharmacy degree, which isn’t true,” he says. “It’s the integration of basic biomedical sciences, offering training in molecular biology, cell biology, systems physiology and genetics, among other areas. And just because you have earned the degree doesn’t mean you’ll find yourself at a research bench for the rest of your career.

“UC and its molecular, cellular and biochemical pharmacology doctoral degree program are important in shaping and sustaining the biotechnology and pharmaceutical enterprise in southwest Ohio.”

This is the first in a three-part series, exploring how students with degrees in molecular, cellular and biochemical pharmacology from UC have contributed to the field and succeeded locally but have also used their expertise in very different ways.

Andrew Carr, PhD, is a youngster in his field.

At age 35, Carr has climbed the ranks at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in only eight years, jumping on board as a cardiovascular drug discovery expert, working on the development of novel drugs, and now, creating clinical trials using new therapies to help millions of people lead a better life every day.

“I wanted to become a lawyer or a doctor—possibly a surgeon,” he says. “I wanted to somehow be engaged and give back to my community. But I ultimately decided that if I could get a drug on the market that could save someone’s life, it would be a meaningful contribution.

“Touching lives by understanding the way our systems work and using that knowledge to create therapies is my way of giving back.”

Carr’s journey into pharmacology and cell biology began with a flier he saw in the hallway as an undergraduate student in biochemistry at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

“I took the opportunity to sit in on a presentation about the program,” he says. “I was very im-pressed with the department and faculty, and I thought the cardiovascular focus was fascinating and well suited to my interests.”

Carr says he had done some research while at the college and saw that an advanced degree in molecular, cellular and biochemical pharmacology would allow him to work more closely with science and biology on all levels—from the molecular level to how our bodies’ systems work together in health and disease. 

“I wanted to dabble in it all,” he says. “I wanted to work with novel biomedical targets and eventually apply this work to the development of drugs but also enrich my knowledge in other scientific disciplines.

“I needed to have a link with the patient in my work. Pharmacology offered me that opportunity by allowing me to understand what causes disease at the protein and cellular levels and eventually how therapeutics can affect disease.”

At UC, Carr did just that.

He worked with Litsa Kranias, PhD, chair of the department, on several models of human disease. His team looked at cardiac function—how certain genetics affected the cardiovascular system and the best way to target the cells and cell mutations affecting the heart’s function. 

In 2001, Carr was recognized for his outstanding work by being named the “Top Young Investi-gator” at the Heart Failure Society of America in Washington, D.C.

At that time, he was also considering a postdoctorate internship in Kranias’ lab and a career in academics, eventually hoping to lead his own research.

However, a job at Procter & Gamble sort of fell into his lap.

“I attended a joint symposium with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC, and P&G presented some scientific research,” he says. “A colleague I used to work with at UC asked about my postdoctorate work options in the pharmaceutical industry and told me that they had some openings.

“I was recruited as a cardiovascular scientist in drug discovery, working in heart failure and angiogenesis—doing the same type of work I’d been doing in the labs at UC for five years,” he adds.

But after a few years with the company, Carr received a shock: Procter & Gamble announced it was moving away from drug discovery efforts to focus on drugs closer to gaining marketing approval.

Thanks to his background and training, he wasn’t left high and dry.

“I transferred to a job in regulatory affairs, putting me in the position of interacting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on our products,” he says, adding that he had actually been interested in making the switch for about a year.

Carr says his UC degree gave him the knowledge and expertise of novel drug therapies but also allowed him to quickly understand and interpret complex regulations implemented by the FDA, making him a shoo-in for the position.

“They recruited me because of my degree and my expertise in pharmacology,” he says. “I was able to talk to the scientists at the FDA and understand their concerns and explanations on a research-based level. If you want to successfully present a new therapy to the experts at FDA, you have to comprehend it—fully. My degree has given me the ability—and the credibility—to do just that.”

After two years in his new position, Carr decided to move to a position as a clinical scientist, where he would be in charge of designing and executing clinical trials.

Carr has been excelling in his new role ever since.

“It was a way to get back into a technical position but still work with regulation, which I enjoy,” he says. “It also allows me to interact more closely with doctors and patients and to be intimately involved in bringing therapies to market. This role is well suited to my pharmacology, technical and regulatory background.”

After experiencing first-hand how a single degree can lead to so many options in the health care field, Carr says he would strongly recommend the program at UC to anyone interested.

“The quality of the facilities, the reputation of the faculty, incredible mentors and the uniqueness of the degree in and of itself are just a few strengths of the UC pharmacology and cell biophysics program,” he says. “This is a way to get a degree that few people really know a lot about, but that people working in the health care industry really respect and seek out.”

Carr says he comes back to UC  and the College of Mount St. Joseph from time to time to give talks about careers in science.

“Something I tell students is that this degree will give them unique skills that will land them a satisfying, high-paying job,” he says. “Southwest Ohio has excellent opportunities to grow and become successful in the field. I let them know they will be getting a solid foundation at UC.

“Things are what you make of them, and if students choose this degree and successfully master and use the tools they’ll learn at UC, I feel very confident they will do very well in whatever career path they choose.” 

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