My UMSOP Story: Sweilem B. Al Rihani, PharmD, PhD, MS ’22, clinical research scientist, Tabula Rasa HealthCare
Sweilem B. Al Rihani is a 2022 graduate of the MS in Pharmacometrics (PHMX) program. He earned his PhD in pharmacy (pharmaceutics) from Auburn University in 2019 and a PharmD degree from the University of Jordan in 2012. He now works as a clinical research scientist at Tabula Rasa HealthCare.
What has been your career path up to now?
I am a clinical pharmacist by training and a clinical research scientist at Tabula Rasa HealthCare, Precision Pharmacotherapy R&D Institute (TRHC-SPPRDI). I joined the TRHC-SPPRDI in 2019 with three years of experience as a clinical pharmacist, in addition to my PhD in pharmaceutical expertise in pre-clinical drug development, pharmacokinetics, drug metabolism, high-throughput screening, bioanalysis, and clinical pharmacology.
As a clinical research scientist, I’m focusing on the pharmacokinetic characterization of metabolic pathways of drugs and the development of new anticholinergic and sedative burden scale in older adults.
What interested you in learning more about pharmacometrics? What was your prior exposure to these topics?
I have always been interested in clinical pharmacology, pharmacotherapy, and drug development focusing mainly on finding cures and managing challenging diseases.
I started my career as a clinical pharmacist at King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) in Amman, Jordan, where I gained experience in pharmacotherapy, therapeutic drug monitoring, and dosing during several clinical rotations with highly qualified clinical pharmacists in the bone marrow transplant unit, ICU, palliative care unit, chemotherapy-outpatient counseling, pediatrics, and internal medicine departments.
During my PhD at Auburn University, I worked on developing a high-throughput screening assay to identify drugs that rectify/protect the blood brain barrier (BBB) integrity from vascular amyloid toxicity associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) progression. The overall objective of my dissertation was to develop novel therapeutic molecules that target the BBB to prevent and/or slow the progression of vascular β-Amyloid pathogenesis related to AD and vascular dementia using in-vitro and in-vivo methodologies. In addition, my research focuses were to investigate the BBB and role of transport proteins/receptors in brain function and homeostasis.
Upon completion of my PhD, I joined Tabula Rasa HealthCare as a clinical research scientist and started focusing on the pharmacokinetic characterization of metabolic pathways of drugs and identifying the different pathways and consequences of drug-drug interactions and their impact on patients’ quality of life. At the same time, I realized the huge benefits of utilizing the different pharmacometrics tools for optimizing clinical trials conditions and the huge role those tools can offer in increasing the success rate for disease modifying treatments for several challenging diseases.
I decided to learn more about pharmacometrics and get into an academic program where I could expand my skillsets and improve my understanding of several foundational concepts related to population pharmacokinetic (PK)/pharmacodynamics and physiologically-based PK modeling and simulation techniques and also enforce my knowledge of clinical trials design and model informed drug development.
What drew you to attend the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?
The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy was one of the few schools that offered a master’s degree in pharmacometrics and the flexibility to attend remotely from any state without interfering with my daily job.
How would you describe your experience in the pharmacometrics program?
I really enjoyed the program, and I learned a lot from all the lectures and all the great discussions with all my colleagues and our professors. The program provides a great introduction into the field of clinical pharmacology and pharmacometrics and an opportunity to learn the different modeling, simulation, and programming tools. I also had the opportunity to work and interact with many students from different backgrounds and with different job experience levels.
What were some of the highlights of the program? What were your interactions been like with faculty, staff, and students?
Our professors – Dr. Joga Gobburu, Dr. Mathangi Gopalakrishnan, Dr. Vijay Ivaturi – and all the teaching assistants were very supportive, always ready to help, answered any questions, and provided advice.
We worked in many different teams and groups throughout the program, which really helped us in building our team management skills and provided a great opportunity for us to learn from each other.
The program also provided an opportunity to learn and interact with scientists and leaders in the field during the invited speakers’ sessions and the Leaders in Pharmacometrics (LEAP) events.
How did the program help you to advance your career?
The program helped me build a good foundation, acquire new skills, and opened new opportunities for me to continue to grow in this great field of clinical pharmacology and pharmacometrics.
What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether to apply to this program?
My advice is to reach out to previous students to have a better understanding about their experience and get advice on how to make the most of this opportunity.
About the MS in Pharmacometrics program: The objective of the MS in Pharmacometrics is to allow current professionals to acquire skills and knowledge to plan, perform and interpret pharmacometric analyses with the goal of influencing key drug development, regulatory and therapeutic decisions. Learn more and apply today.