If you want to learn a thing or two about stepping outside of your comfort zone, Scott Schliebner is the person to speak to. Scott’s adventurous spirit translates well to his position as Senior Vice President of PRA’s Center for Rare Diseases. He and his team focus on supporting the development of new therapies for rare disease patients who desperately need them. Rare disease research requires persistence and creativity, two things Scott doesn’t shy away from. Below, he shares his perspectives on where the clinical research industry is headed next.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, which would you choose?
Scrappy, visionary, positive.
Why did you become involved in clinical research?
I became heavily involved in research while in college and had the opportunity to work in a research lab, publish, and present results of our findings while still an undergraduate. While I loved research, and was clearly drawn to it, I quickly realized that I needed to answer the question, “So what?” I wanted to work in research that was applied—research that made a difference to people and impacted lives positively. I was drawn into the area of pharmacoepidemiology, clinical research, and ultimately clinical trials. The rest is history.
In your experience, what’s the most important factor that has changed drug development?
The industry and regulators are beginning to focus on the most important stakeholder in drug development: the patients. We’re seeing an increase in patient-focused approaches, new research paradigms, and support/encouragement from regulators to include patients within the drug development process. All of this change is leading us to embrace more practical and patient-friendly ways for clinical trials to be designed and conducted.
What is the biggest misconception people have about clinical trials?
The general public doesn’t understand much about clinical trials or what clinical research is. Many people think that clinical trials are for guinea pigs, that participants are being taken advantage of, that clinical trials are unsafe, that the latest and best treatments aren’t being tested in clinical trials, and that clinical trials are for healthy volunteers and not patients.
How has clinical research affected your life personally?
It has made me thankful for my health and allowed me to contribute to the betterment of society as a whole.
If you think back, at what point could you have chosen a different career path and what would it have been?
I considered taking an academic path in college, but realized I was better suited to the private sector, working on things that had practical applicability to people’s lives. My academic advisors suggested I get a Master’s degree and work in the industry to gain some experience and insights into which path I should take. They were smart—and they were right! If it wasn’t an academic path, I would have been a veterinarian.
What’s a fun fact about your childhood?
At age 13, while on summer vacation in Paris, I took myself to a hospital to get stitches. I didn’t speak French and I didn’t know what health insurance I had. Still, I managed to get myself there, get eight stitches in my knee, and then get back to our hotel. I got my stitches out later in a hospital in Switzerland. My mother was very confused.
If you were to write a self-help book, what would the topic be?
Less is more: The Anti-Hoarder’s Organizational Handbook
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
To not automatically “do things the way we always have.” Think about patients first. Consider technology. Look at how other industries have adopted a “customer-focused” mindset, then apply that to how you engage and work with patients.
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