Name: Joseph E. McClellan
Class Year: 1995
Title: Vice President, Biosimilars Development Lead
Organization Name: Pfizer Essential Health Research and Development, Pfizer Inc.
In one sentence, what does your job entail?
At Pfizer, I lead the global development of a large portfolio of biosimilars (which are highly similar with respect to physiochemical characteristics, biological activity, pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety to originator biologic medicines) by ensuring that all development programs are (1.) aligned with Pfizer strategy, global regulatory guidances and country regulatory feedback; (2.) delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner relative to the development plans; and (3.) developed to the highest quality standards.
What were you involved in when you were on campus?
I spent a lot of great time with a fabulous group of roommates and friends throughout my four years at Holy Cross. (I still do a lot with my senior-year Alumni 23 roommates, even after over 20 years post-graduation.) Also, I participated in Honors Research in Chemistry and was a member of the Men’s Golf Team.
What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?
I was a Chemistry major at Holy Cross with an interest in analytical chemistry and instrumentation. After Holy Cross, I attained a Ph.D. in Chemistry and also completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship, both of which developed and evolved my knowledge of analytical chemistry and instrumentation, specifically in mass spectrometry. To this day, I still consider myself a ‘Chemist’ and ‘Mass Spectrometrist’, even though I have not been a bench scientist in over 10 years. All of my successes in chemistry and the biopharmaceutical industry can be traced to the foundation that I learned and developed at Holy Cross.
What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?
Directly after Holy Cross, I went to the University of Florida to pursue my Ph.D. in chemistry. I chose UF based on a strong analytical chemistry program, which I was keenly interested in based on my Honors Research at Holy Cross. After my Ph.D. and Postdoctoral Fellowship at Boston University School of Medicine, I began my career at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in 2002, which was acquired by Pfizer Inc. in 2009. From the outside and in retrospect, my path looks quite calculated and plodding. However, at each turn every decision was ‘unplanned’ as none of these schools (including Holy Cross), programs, or company was my ‘first choice’ prior to the decision being made. They all turned out to be the absolute right, best decision for me! I have been very fortunate in this way and think that is a lesson for folks to recognize that we are often put in opportunities that provide opportunities for success and its vitally important for each individual put forth the optimum effort to succeed. After 15 years, I am still with the same company, though I have had many distinct roles with ever evolving responsibilities throughout my career.
What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?
At Holy Cross, I learned about analytical chemistry, instrumentation, and mass analysis, which were the early foundation for both my Ph.D. and initial career at Pfizer. These skills are still used today as I work with development teams and assess physiochemical data for our biosimilars programs. More importantly, I learned how to be an individual researcher and solve complicated problems on my own at Holy Cross through the Honors Research program. While team interactions are very important in science and the biopharmaceutical industry, the ability for a scientist to solve complicated problems by his or herself is an important part for both the scientist’s and the team’s success.