Photo of alumni Andrea Burden

Andrea Burden says interdisciplinary education at Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy has been critical to her success

Andrea Burden’s academic career started in psychology and criminology, but when she pivoted in her PhD degree to studying real world drug safety with Suzanne Cadarette, she discovered an interest in pharmacoepidemiology, a field she had never heard of before her starting her degree. Burden – the 2021 recipient of the Emerging Leader in Pharmaceutical Sciences Alumni Award from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy – is now assistant professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the Swiss Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule [ETH] Zürich), which is among the top 10 ranked universities globally and the leading university on mainland Europe.

“Through my PhD research, I really fell in love with real-world evidence and big data, and I learned a lot from working with Suzanne,” says Burden. “My start in academics was truly at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy because that’s where I built the foundation to be where I am today.”

Burden’s PhD, completed in 2014, focused on drug adherence in osteoporosis and how it affected medications’ effectiveness. This allowed her to apply her knowledge of human behaviour from her previous education and dip her toes into pharmacoepidemiology. Following her interest in real-world drug safety and bone health, she then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and in 2018 she began a role as assistant professor in pharmacoepidemiology in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the first and currently only professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the institute.

Her research at the ETH Zurich focuses on drug safety in musculoskeletal and metabolic diseases, such as osteoporosis, fractures, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and as one of the few pharmacoepidemiologists in Switzerland, her team also undertakes drug policy research. She still frequently collaborates with Cadarette and other faculty as the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

Burden says that pharmacoepidemiology research is not as well-known in Switzerland as it is in North America, and one of her long-term goals is to increase its profile to be able to have an impact on drug policy at the national level.

“I want the ETH to be known as a centre of excellence in drug safety research and for our research to have impact on drug policy in Switzerland,” she says. “We have a long way to go, and we need high quality population data, but in the long-term, I hope that we can work with regulators and that our research can have societal impact on drug policy and safety.”

Interdisciplinary research at Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy helped develop key communication skills

Burden says that one of the things she most valued about her education at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy is the interdisciplinary nature of the Faculty and how it helped her develop skills in communicating her work with researchers from other specialties. This skill has been particularly important as the only pharmacoepidemiologist in her institution, where her colleagues are often experts in chemistry and other basic sciences.

For example, Burden helped to found the European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS) Academy during her post-doctoral fellowship. As part of the ECTS, the largest European society for bone research, the academy provides opportunities for junior researchers working in any field of bone research to network and meet other investigators. Many of her colleagues in the academy are basic scientists, and Burden says that communicating her research has been critical to developing the important collaborations that have resulted from her work with this group.

“Learning to communicate my research has served me very well, and I don’t think I would have been able to do that part of my job if I hadn’t been at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy,” she says. “At the time, I don’t think I realized the value of being part of an interdisciplinary Faculty, but throughout my life it has been hugely important.”

Having valued her time at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Burden says she is honoured to be recognized by her peers with the Emerging Leader in Pharmaceutical Sciences Alumni Award.

“The Faculty is really where I got my start, so to get this ‘stamp of approval’ is so rewarding,” she says. “Knowing the quality of the people that graduate from this Faculty, having peers in my field of research see me as an emerging leader is extra special.”

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