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An Intriguing Offer

Posted on January 15, 2009

Mauricio Tohen (bio) describes his career path from medical school to the pharmaceutical industry.


I was born and raised in Mexico City and I wanted to pursue an academic career, so when I finished medical school I wanted to come to the U.S. and do my residency training.

So, I moved to Boston, was in a fellowship at McLean Hospital, started doing some research, and that is when I realized that I needed more training.

So, I first started by taking a course in statistics and then I enjoyed it, and then I took a course in epidemiology, and that led to a Master's of Public Health degree. And then I continued to do research, and it became clear to me that I needed a bit more work, so I decided to enroll in the doctoral degree and I did.

And, actually, during my doctoral training I got some very good advice. My thesis advisor was Ming Tsuang and he told me, "Mauricio, if you want to learn a topic in depth you really need to stick to it for the rest of your life, and a good topic would be your thesis."

And as it is my thesis topic was outcome in bipolar disorder, and that's what I've been doing for the last two-and-a-half decades.

But patients would ask, "Well, yes, we're interested. We would be willing to participate in your studies, but we want new treatments. Is there anything better than what we have now?"

And that's how I got involved in clinical trials. And as it is, we conducted the first study of an atypical antipsychotic in mania; this was risperidone. This was the only atypical antipsychotic available at that point.

And that was published, and soon after I got a call from Lilly asking me if I were interested in conducting the studies that would enable us to assess the efficacy and safety of a new drug, olanzapine.

And what was intriguing about the offer from Lilly was that if I were to work in this drug and the studies were important, not only from the point of view of the drug itself, but also in how to study a drug specifically in bipolar disorder, I thought that would have, I would be able to have an impact.

The other thing that I thought was appealing is that studies in the pharmaceutical industry tend to be global meaning they're conducted not only in the U.S., but across the globe and, to me, that was appealing; perhaps has to do because I have a global ancestry.

I think the studies that we've designed, implemented, analyzed, and published really have made an impact in the field.

We were able to study bipolar disorder in different phases, obviously, treatment of the mania, treatment of the depression, prevention of the mania, prevention of the depression — and we did it all. We got indications in the U.S., in the European Union, and practically the whole world, and I think that the studies have had an impact on patients.

It has been a wonderful experience to me. Now, I would say right now I'm in the stage of my career that you call it the third stage, that you've been productive and you want to see how long you want to do it. Some folks might even start thinking of retirement; certainly not me. I think I want to do like my father who, he was an orthopedic surgeon and he practiced in his 80s, so for me, retirement is not an option.

But in industry most people, after a period of time, they retire. I'm not going to retire and go fishing. I don't know how to fish. So, I think at some point I will go back to academia, so the question for me is "when" because I want to still leave an impact. I think that my experience of 15 years at McLean, rather, and 12 in industry: I think those two experiences, I think I have, still a lot to offer, and I think I still can have further impact; and not only, of course, on trainees and institutions, but certainly on patients. So, that's the stage of my life right now.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 Leadership Training Institute in Bethesda, MD.


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