Lake Nona Leadership Council Meeting Celebrates Scientific Discovery and Achievement

By Tyler Francischine

On the morning of March 26, golden sunlight streamed through the University of Florida College of Pharmacy’s Research and Academic Center in Lake Nona, its brilliance matching the illuminating exchanges enjoyed by students, faculty and pharmaceutical industry leaders during the annual Lake Nona Leadership Council Meeting.

Hosted by the UF Center for Pharmacometrics and Systems Pharmacology, the 2024 council meeting featured two days of activities, including presentations from Stephan Schmidt, Ph.D., F.C.P., director of the Center for Pharmacometrics and Systems Pharmacology, or CPSP, and the Certara Endowed Professor, and Sarah Kim, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmaceutics, as well as opportunities for informal conversation during social events and a fireside chat.

Schmidt says this annual meeting provides an opportunity for the center to engage in critical discussions about the future of pharmacometrics – and the role CPSP will maintain in this growing field.

“This meeting allows us to run innovative ideas for research and education by senior representatives of industry and regulatory agencies,” Schmidt said. “It also allows us to get feedback on what they feel the center could do to help move the discipline forward.”

During a student poster session, two dozen UF College of Pharmacy graduate students and postdoctoral associates presented their ground-breaking research for the chance to take home top honors. Janny Piñeiro-Llanes, Ph.D., an Orlando-based postdoctoral associate in the department of pharmaceutics, received third-place recognition for her poster, “Generation of iPSC-derived Down Syndrome Intestinal Organoids Representative of Monozygotic Twins Discordant for Trisomy 21.”

Piñeiro-Llanes’ research used stem cell technology to generate an in-vitro tool to study the pathophysiology of Down syndrome with an aim to develop better therapeutic strategies for those affected by this genetic disorder, a group who remains underrepresented in clinical trials and experiences higher occurrences of adverse drug reactions, especially when undergoing treatment for diseases like leukemia and dementia.

“My motivation for this research is the fact that we’re helping people in the long-term. This underrepresented patient population needs better strategies to improve their health and lives. The tools we’re developing can be used to study drug metabolism related to other disorders and diseases that affect the brain-gut axis,” Piñeiro-Llanes said. “Our in-vitro tool provides accurate, patient-specific information that allows for more personalized medicine.”

Before a roundtable lunch shared by Lake Nona Leadership Council members and CPSP students and trainees, Churni Gupta, Ph.D., M.S., and Priscila Yamamoto, Ph.D., M.S., were both honored with first-place prizes for their winning research posters. At lunchtime, discussion was enthusiastic and candid as Mirjam Trame, Pharm.D., Ph.D., a pharmacometrics consultant, the vice-president of integrated drug development and the U.S. pharmacometrics group head – Division 2 for quantitative sciences solutions at Certara, discussed the benefits of a varied career path and provided students and trainees with job interview advice culled from her own experience.

“You need to be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to discuss what you want out of a job,” said Trame, an adjunct professor with CPSP who has held positions in academia, consulting, biotechnology and large pharmaceutical companies. “You can be technically very strong, but there needs to be a dialogue. Communication skills are very important.”

Stephan Schaller, founder and CEO of esqLABS, a mid-sized contract research organization that provides CPSP students with modeling and simulation training, commended this year’s Lake Nona Leadership Council Meeting for its ample opportunities for students and trainees to gain critical insights as they prepare to navigate their careers in pharmacometrics.

“I think the students who have the chance to participate here also get the chance to have exchanges with the alumni, faculty and leadership in our industry to get an idea about different career opportunities,” said Schaller, who also served as a panelist during March 25’s Fireside Chat on the Future of Model-informed Drug Discovery and Development, or MID3. “They can get quite deep insights into what to strive for, how to prepare and how to lay out their education and careers.”

Schmidt said he hopes students, trainees and industry leaders alike left this year’s Lake Nona Leadership Council Meeting with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the CPSP’s mission, as well as recognition that their voices matter.

“This meeting is a great opportunity for students and trainees to meet senior leaders in the field, get input on their research, expand their professional network and meet potential future employers,” Schmidt said. “I would like all attendees to leave the council meeting excited, feeling that they contributed to the program and discipline, and that they had input in moving the needle forward.”

March 25-26, 2024

Lake Nona Leadership Council Meeting

This is a group photo of all the attendees of the Lake Nona Leadership Council meeting gathered at the front of an auditorium.