Linda Scarazzini, vice president, pharmacovigilance & patient safety, has had two drivers throughout her scientific career and her life: curiosity and kindness. Today, that same enthusiasm is foundational to how she develops new leaders and creates an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.
Your career has spanned all areas of science, from pharmacist to clinical researcher to FDA leader. When did your interest in science start?
I don’t know if I was born with an interest in science, but I was born with a curiosity of how things work. My parents nurtured this in me in different ways. My father was a builder and would spend hours working with me on my erector sets, building different structures with the precise support. My mother constantly encouraged me to keep reading, exploring, and expanding my world. She would sit with me for hours, helping with my biology homework and encouraging me to pursue my passion: science.
You went to the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and eventually the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Why did you go that route?
I chose pharmacy school for a few reasons: first, I spent a lot of time at my friend’s parents’ pharmacy and saw how a local pharmacy was an important point of interaction in the community. Second, pharmacy school appealed to my natural intuition for order and accuracy. Lastly, it was a way for me to exercise my scientific curiosity. It was in pharmacy school that I began to deeply understand how medications work and how to explain benefits and risks to patients. It was a practical, meaningful stepping stone toward medical school.
At what point did you move in the specific direction of pharmaceutical safety?
My internal medicine residency was at Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania during the height of the HIV-AIDS epidemic. I had the privilege of working with clinicians and researchers in this area, helping treat patients who were waiting for life-altering therapies. I experienced first-hand the impact of drug development on patients’ lives. So, when I was approached to transfer my skills as a practicing physician to that of a pharmacovigilance team in the pharmaceutical industry, I was intrigued. Even though I wasn’t completely sure what pharmacovigilance was, my soon-to-be-boss assured me that my knowledge of clinical research, medical training, and curiosity were the elements she was looking for. She gave me a chance, and 20 years later – here I am. Even today, when I’m hiring new team members, I bring that same mindset. If you have curiosity, varied experiences, and an open mind, you will be a strong asset to my diverse team.
How do you explain what you do in pharmacovigilance to friends and family?
I tell them that I collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate information about the safety of medicines. Basically, we do safety, so you don’t have to. I think COVID-19 has made it that much easier to explain the importance of my work. Family and friends have been asking how to discern facts from fiction. They look to me to clearly explain what publications and clinical research findings really mean, so they have the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about treatments and vaccines. I try to tailor my advice so that they can make their own choices based on their individual risk profile and real-time data.
You’ve been getting useful information into patients’ hands for decades. Where did that start?
During my undergraduate program at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, I joined a community-based project called Brown Bag Saturdays. Residents from the surrounding neighborhood would bring their medication to a park across the street from my school. My peers and I would review their different prescriptions and talk to them about their medications. We listened to their concerns without judgment and answered their questions about the benefits and risks. It was at that time that I realized the importance of social determinants of health, including health literacy, as important factors that affect medication adherence.
The FDA was quite the pivot, as they’re responsible for protecting people by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of therapies. What was that experience like?
I like to say that I’ve looked at drugs from all sides now: from patient, to pharmacist, to physician, to industry, to regulatory agency and back to industry. My FDA experience was pivotal in my career. There, I learned about public health from my colleagues, who had dedicated their careers to public service. I also learned about the responsibility that leaders have to communicate simply, transparently, and effectively.