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An Eye-Opening Experience: How the Innovation Fellows Program Helped to Illuminate One Scientist’s Career Path

4 minute read
Katherine Garlo, MD

The Mass General Brigham Innovation Fellows Program was established five years ago to provide short-term, experiential career development opportunities for future leaders in health care, focused on accelerating collaborative innovation between science and industry.

The program facilitates personnel exchanges between Harvard Medical School staff from Mass General Brigham hospitals and participating biopharmaceutical, device, venture capital and digital health companies. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the program, we spoke to five Innovation fellows (past and present) to learn more about their experiences.

This is 1 of 5 profiles on Innovation Fellows honoring the 5th anniversary of the program’s launch. For more information about the program, please contact Cary Mazzone at

For Katherine Garlo, MD, an Innovation Fellow project with Boston Pharmaceuticals provided a new perspective on what it’s like to work in industry—and helped to bring her career path into focus.

Garlo is currently director of global medical sciences at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Boston where she works in clinical development for phase two and three trials in rare kidney diseases. She became a Mass General Brigham Innovation Fellow in 2017 following her nephrology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

The hands-on experience Garlo gained at Boston Pharmaceuticals took place under the mentorship of Philip Yin, MD and provided valuable exposure to the drug development process—from preclinical discovery stages all the way through to multinational proof-of-concept phase two trials.

Garlo was introduced to the concepts of clinical development including exposure to phase 1 first in human PK/PD studies and trial design of phase 2 randomized controlled trials. Her contributions included work related to mechanism of action (MOA), chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, toxicology, clinical trial design and regulatory requirements.

“I see programs such as this as a ‘win-win,’” says Eric Svensson, MD, PhD, senior vice president and head of translational research at Boston Pharmaceuticals. “For the fellow, this program provides valuable, ‘hands on’ exposure to process of drug development. For the company sponsoring the fellow, this program can provide additional medical expertise in the disease area toward which a therapeutic is being developed.”

“In addition, these programs also build bridges between industry and academia that I believe will accelerate the translation of discoveries into novel therapeutics to ultimately benefit patients.”

As part of the Fellow’s Program, Garlo received mentoring from Mason Freeman, MD, director of translational medicine group at MGH. Dr. Freeman, one of the program’s five mentors, offered career advice based on his experience working in both academia and industry. She also explored different career paths and met with leaders from Biogen, Sanofi, and other top biopharmaceutical companies.

Working with and learning from these industry leaders made a powerful impression. “You think about your research in a different way and gain hands-on experience in areas that are not typically part of an academic residency,” she says. “I learned a lot about myself, my strengths, where I find the most fulfillment and the different styles of communication.

“The two worlds are really pretty different, and I learned a little bit about how to work between them.”

In her new role, Garlo is part of a cross-functional team responsible for protocol writing, regulatory interactions, study initiation, database development, data review, and study report writing to support the development of new therapies. She works in rare kidney disease, including atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, lupus nephritis, and IgA nephropathy.

“It’s an exciting blend of science, statistics, medicine, and innovation,” she says. “Every day is an opportunity to work to provide patients with new treatments that reduce the disease burden and improve lives.”