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UMSOP-AstraZeneca Fellowship Program Chooses 2024 Cohort

Early oncology clinical development positions available exclusively to School’s PharmD graduates.

Nick Caprio and Joanna Shaju

By Andrew Tie
February 19, 2024

Nick Caprio and Joanna Shaju, both fourth-year student pharmacists at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP), have been chosen for  AstraZeneca-University of Maryland Early Clinical Development Fellowships following graduation in the spring.

For nearly 15 years, this UMSOP and AstraZeneca collaboration has helped Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) graduates begin their careers in the pharmaceutical industry. Begun in 2009, the fellowship is an exclusive two-year program for UMSOP PharmD graduates interested in a career in clinical research. The fellowship is located at AstraZeneca’s North American research operations headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., about 45 miles from UMSOP.

“The unique partnership between UMSOP and AstraZeneca shows the School’s strong connections to industry and is a reflection of how we prepare our PharmD graduates for a multitude of careers,” said Sarah L.J. Michel, PhD, dean and professor of the School.

Every year, a committee of UMSOP faculty and AstraZeneca staff chooses one to two fellows from the fourth-year class who have shown a penchant for clinical research in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Fellows will be involved in the early clinical development of oncology therapeutics, which may include biologics and small molecules, as well as new modalities.

“Nick and Joanna have demonstrated a passion for pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry, and they are both well qualified for these fellowships,” said Paul Shapiro, PhD, associate dean for research and advanced graduate studies and professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC). “This opportunity provides an exciting springboard for a highly successful career at AstraZeneca and beyond.”

Gray Kirby, PharmD, director of oncology research and development at AstraZeneca, said the fellowship program provides intensive, specialized training to understand the drug development process and study management experience with an emphasis on the development of the individual to succeed in the pharmaceutical industry.

“The intent is to prepare the fellow with an exceptional learning and mentorship experience as they enter their longer-term career in drug development,” Kirby said.

Nick Caprio

Caprio received a BS in natural sciences from the University of Pittsburgh and previously served in the Navy on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, attaining the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class. During his first year of pharmacy school, he volunteered in the lab of Ryan Pearson, PhD, assistant professor of PSC, investigating innate immune cell-tuning properties of certain nanoparticles. Through involvement with the Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) and a rotation at AstraZeneca, Caprio became more familiar with the drug development process and realized that early clinical development was an accessible research career path for someone with a PharmD background.

“The early oncology clinical sciences rotation opened my eyes to the impact PharmD’s can have on the development of novel therapeutics that show tremendous promise in treating various types of cancer,” Caprio said. “What attracts me to early-phase drug development is the unknowns you encounter when helping develop drugs being initially tested in patients, and the potential to work on new drugs that may one day help cancer patients.”

Joanna Shaju

Shaju is a dual degree student in UMSOP’s PharmD and MS in Pharmacometrics programs. She received a BS in biochemistry from Virginia Tech, where her interest in drug development began. During her time at UMSOP, she has been involved in research with the US Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Clinical Pharmacology, working on cross-study pharmacokinetic variability in support of generic submissions. She was also involved in pharmacometrics research looking at the gap in literature on available pharmacokinetics of antibiotics in a pregnant population. She has completed a rotation at Regeneron along with a rotation and internship at AstraZeneca. Shaju was also involved with IPhO and worked with the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists’ Operation Diabetes to raise diabetes awareness in Baltimore.

“I am very excited for the opportunity to continue working and building upon my current foundations at AstraZeneca,” Shaju said. “Working in an industry and a company that has the advancement of science, technology, and health care at the forefront has always been a priority for me, and I look forward to learning and contributing to the effort.”

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