Brian Corrigan, Vice President and Global Head of Clinical Pharmacology, and Head of Clinical Pharmacology for Global Product Development at Pfizer in Groton, Connecticut, sat down with our team virtually to talk about his career journey, his passion for Clinical Pharmacology and Pharmacometrics, and his thoughts on Canada’s life sciences ecosystem.
Corrigan has more than 20 years of experience on the application of Clinical Pharmacology and Pharmacometric approaches that facilitate decision making in all stages of drug development, most notably in the neurosciences and pain field. He has authored nearly 150 manuscripts, abstracts and book chapters in this discipline. He received his B.Sc, Pharmacy with Distinction from the University of Alberta, Canada (1989), and Ph.D in Pharmacokinetics from the University of Alberta (1996). He is also the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award for lifetime accomplishments in 2021, the Alumni Association’s highest honor. He is also a member of API’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
He has served as an editorial reviewer for numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Brian served on the Editorial Advisory Board for Clinical Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics. He has also served as Co-chair of the modeling workgroup of the Coalition against Major Diseases (CAMD), a Critical Path Institute consortium of industry, FDA, NIH, medical associations, and patient advocacy groups working to develop common understanding of neurological degenerative diseases. This led to the first submissions to the FDA and EMA for use of a disease model as a program independent drug development tool, and subsequent development of the fit-for-purpose regulatory pathway for drug development tools.
You have pioneered drug research methods that have now become the gold standard in pharmacometrics and your journey to where you are now is inspiring. Can you tell us about your career journey, your role at Pfizer and what motivates you to do this work?
All my formal training has occurred in Canada, in Alberta. After receiving my doctorate Pharmacokinetics from the University of Alberta in 1996, I entered the pharmaceutical industry in Glaxo Smith Kline in Ontario, and after 2 years, I decided to move to Kansas City to work as part of Hoechst Marion Roussell.
I then joined Parke Davis in Ann Arbor MI to work for a company called Parke Davis, which was later acquired by Pfizer. While in Parke Davis, we began to explore the use of model informed quantitative methods to enhance medicines development. We successfully developed methodologies that integrated information from studies in the program, information from previous programs, and existing literature to assist in informed decision making. We also developed pharmaco- statistical models that explain drug disposition, drug kinetics and drug effects, and used these approaches to integrate biomarkers into understanding disease progression.
Over the last two decades, the use of these types of models has expanded to allow us to predict dose, understand impact of patient characteristics on drug response, and to describe the longitudinal nature of disease. We can estimate the drug effectiveness in virtual populations, simulate clinical trials, and save time in bringing medicines to patients.
I currently serve as the Global Head of Clinical Pharmacology at Pfizer. In this role, I oversee clinical pharmacology studies and special population studies for our medicines, bioanalytics for all Pfizer trials, application of Model Informed Drug Development or MIDD approaches, and responsibility for all clinical pharmacology elements related to our submissions to Health Authorities globally. Today MIDD is an integral part of every program at Pfizer and is widely accepted by FDA and other regulatory agencies.
My work is motivated by the fact that our medicines bring breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. For those patients, time is life, and every minute matters. MIDD approaches bring our medicines to those patients faster and with more certainty in our understanding of how they will work. What could be more motivating?
Thinking back to your early years, what advice would you give to students now who are in the same place? What do you think is important for them to know as they navigate their own path?
My advice to students would be to take as much advantage of your learning opportunities in university as you can. Attain a fundamental understanding of the scientific method. Explore emerging technologies, but make sure you understand the underlying rationale behind them. Understanding the difference between science (a philosophy) and technology (the practical application of science) and learning how to apply the scientific method to everything you do is crucial as you move forward in your career.
Also, invest time in becoming the best communicator you can be. Often the concepts and methods scientists use are complex. Developing medicines is a team sport. You will be part of a matrix-team of individuals with various scientific and non-scientific backgrounds who work together. Being able to explain your ideas to key stakeholders is critical to your success. Take a Toastmasters class, or other classes like it to make you an effective communicator.
How did you get introduced to API and why are you a member of API’s Scientific Advisory Committee?
I was first introduced to API several years ago through my former grad school lab mates, Dr. Neal M. Davies of University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and cofounder of API, along with Andrew MacIsaac, CEO at API. They believed that my experiences in pharma will be valuable to API’s mission and help them expand in the life sciences ecosystem in Canada.
As a member of API’s Scientific Advisory Committee, I’m hoping that I can bring my experience to API, its partners, and to the students and faculty at the University of Alberta. Being an alumnus of the university allows me to understand the learning curve of students in academic institutions, and to bridge the gap between the academic training and the application of that training in an industry setting. Being Canadian but looking at development from a global perspective allows me to understand the challenges and opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs seeking ways to work and develop a thriving biotech industry in Canada.
What do you think about Canada’s life sciences sector and where do you see our great opportunities in the future?
There is great opportunity for the life sciences in Canada to become not only a significant economic driver but to help develop the life science leaders of the future through training and access to industry.
Canadian universities, academic centers, training hospitals, and infrastructure are second to none. The Canadian standard of care is like other western countries, making Canada suitable for inclusion in multi-region Clinical trials.
Together, this creates a great opportunity to expand the life sector in Canada. Success will take investment of capital from the private sector, willingness on the part of universities and governments to work together with the private sector to attract that investment, and an environment that provides reasonable return on investment for new medicines for those investors.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
The last few years have been unique. Being involved in several COVID-19 vaccine development programs has left little time for pursuits outside of work. I am hoping that this year I can get back to things I enjoy like cycling, hiking and photography.
What are you most proud of in your life – career or otherwise?
Being part of the team that developed the first effective oral treatment for the treatment of COVID-19, and that utilized many MIDD approaches to bring this medicine to patients so quickly has been a highlight of my career. I am proud to work with such a dedicated group daily.
I was also proud to be named a Distinguished Alumni of the University in 2021. Being born and raised in Alberta, receiving this award in front of friends and family is a highlight in my career and has given me an opportunity to share with them my thanks for all the support they have given me over the years.
Finally, I am proud to be a father of a 2021 Tokyo Olympian. My son was part of the US Men’s Olympic team for rowing. While we were not able to attend in person in Tokyo due to COVID restrictions, it did not lessen the pride we felt as we watched him race in Tokyo.