Take a deeper dive

5 Questions with Deborah (Debby) Ann Smith, Pharm.D.

Kelly Gelinne, our Associate Director of Marketing, sat down with Deborah (Debby) Ann Smith, Pharm.D., one of Nuventra’s senior consultants of pharmacokinetics and clinical pharmacology to learn more about her career path into clinical pharmacology consulting, what therapeutic areas she is passionate about, advice for new scientists, and more.

Debby has more than 30 years of leadership and experience in clinical development, clinical pharmacology and pharmacokinetics for small and large compounds from candidate selection through registration and beyond. Debby spent the majority of her career working in clinical pharmacology at GlaxoSmithKline, and prior to that worked at Glaxo Wellcome, Burroughs Wellcome, and SmithKline Beecham Corporation. Her therapeutic experience includes 20 years in oncology with a focus on cytotoxic and single transduction small molecules and immunotherapies.

Kelly: Welcome Debby, we’re excited to chat with you today! Alright, let’s jump into our 5 questions to learn more about you.


Tell us about your career path. How did you end up here at Nuventra as a senior consultant?

Debby: I was a retail pharmacist for about 10 years and then went back to school to get my Pharm.D. While I was there, I decided I really enjoyed pharmacokinetics so I completed a pharma fellowship in pharmacokinetics. Once I finished my fellowship, I joined SmithKline Beecham and then came to North Carolina with Burroughs Wellcome, which became Glaxo Wellcome and then became GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

A few years ago, GSK divested most of the people in RTP, and I went to Parexel for a couple of years. Bill Wargin is the reason I’m at Nuventra. We crossed paths at a meeting and he asked if I would like to come and interview with Nuventra—and I did—and the rest is history. I’m very happy at Nuventra and I’m glad I’m here.

Kelly: That’s great. I think Bill Wargin is the reason quite a few people are at Nuventra. He has a wide circle of friends in the clinical pharmacology world.

Debby: Back when I worked for Burroughs Wellcome and Glaxo Wellcome, I worked with Bill.

What advice would you give to a new scientist?

Debby: Be open, explore, and take opportunities that come along—even ones that you may not think are what you want. Also, do not be afraid to change jobs if you get to a position or get somewhere and find out after you’ve given it a year, that it’s not really what you want. Do not be afraid to look for something else. Explore and learn. Learn as much as you can.

In the pharmaceutical industry, clinical pharmacology is situated in a very interesting spot because it spans almost the whole development spectrum. The more you can learn in other areas like CMC, nonclinical/clinical, and regulatory helps to broaden your knowledge which will help in the drug development space. But generally, even if you’re not in drug development, for any scientist, I would say explore. Do not be afraid to change directions. If you did your PhD in CNS and something comes along where you can use a bit of what you learned in a different area, do not be afraid to go to that area to try other things.

Kelly: I love that advice, that’s great.

What is something that you have seen that’s often overlooked by sponsors?

Debby: I’ve seen that companies or sponsors are in such a hurry to get a drug on the market that they forget lots of things. For instance, depending on the BCS class of your drug, sponsors should know if they have a food effect etc. How you take the drug in your pivotal studies (empty stomach, with food, etc.) is what your label will be, whether that’s how the drug should be taken or not. Sponsors aren’t stopping to actually take the time to find out what dose and schedule is best for their drug. So those are the primary things that I think sponsors overlook.

What do you enjoy about working as a consultant?

Debby: I enjoy lots of things. I enjoy meeting/working with small companies, and having the flexibility to work more hours or less hours. One of the things I like so much about being a consultant and working at Nuventra is that we have a number of people with knowledge in different areas than my personal experience, so I can pull in other people and ask questions. I’m not sitting out by myself expected to know all the answers. I can go to other people who are experts in different areas than I am to help answer sponsors’ questions. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of great sponsors that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with if I weren’t a consultant. I’ve met many people and made connections that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been a consultant.

Kelly: That’s great, and I think that that’s something unique about Nuventra. You can serve as a consultant, but you also have our great community of other consultants to lean on for help.

Debby: Yes. Very much so, and I think it’s important.

Is there a certain therapeutic area that you are particularly passionate about?

Debby: Yes. Oncology—and this goes back to the earlier question of what advice I would give a young scientist. When I first started out, I didn’t want to have anything to do with oncology. Due to circumstances, that’s where I landed, and I have found out over the years that I’m truly passionate about oncology. Many people I’ve known, including both of my parents, have had cancer. Luckily, it was detected early, so they haven’t had to take any drugs or medications. When I work on oncology drugs, I feel that I am definitely helping people.

I have worked on cytotoxics which are really, really toxic to small molecules which have less toxicity and immunotherapies which had different kinds of toxicities. I’ve also had the opportunity—which I’m also passionate about—to work on areas of unmet medical need. I have worked on 2 or 3 different compounds for an unmet medical need. It is very rewarding to be able to help people that aren’t in the big therapeutic areas like oncology or cardiovascular disease and who may not have as many medications to choose from.

Kelly: I know it must be rewarding to know that your work has direct impact on patients, especially in the oncology and unmet medical need space. That’s really inspiring.

Bonus Question

Kelly: So, that’s our 5 questions. Just for fun, do you want to share what you do in your free time outside of your work as a consultant?

Debby: Sure. I spend a lot of time knitting, but I also like to walk and hike and spend time with my husband and our dog. So, those are things I like to do outside of work.

Kelly: That’s great. We definitely have some hobbies in common.

Debby: Yes.

Kelly: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Debby. It was really great to learn more about you.

Debby: You’re quite welcome.


If you have any questions for Debby or for any of our other scientists, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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