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Rho Chi Talks: The Path to Pharmaceutical Industry

Featuring: Fawad Piracha, PharmD, MBA, IgCP

By: Holly Nguyen, PharmD Candidate ℅ 2024

Fawad Piracha is a ‘16 alumnus of the St. John’s University PharmD program and has since had a storied career. Dr. Piracha is the second of four family members who  graduated from St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (read more about it here: For the Pirachas, Pharmacy Is a Family Affair). After graduating, Dr. Piracha completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Pharmacovigilance/Risk Management at Regeneron, where he advanced his career, before accepting a role as Vice President, Clinical Affairs at KabaFusion, the largest privately held home infusion company in the United States. In May 2023, Dr. Piracha earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Columbia Business School, where he graduated with distinction. Currently, Dr. Piracha is the Chief Clinical Officer at KabaFusion, where he leads a broad array of activities.

You have a unique family connection within the St. John’s University, College of Pharmacy and Health Science alumni as the second person of 4 family members to have attended and graduated from the PharmD Program. How did having your sister attend St. John’s first impact your decision to also attend St. John’s, and what part did you play in your cousins’ decision to do the same?

When I was in high school, my personal goal was to get into an accelerated BS/MD program. If that didn’t work out, then I was content with being a pharmacist, if it was from a six-year program. When I was admitted into St. John’s, I visited the campus with my sister, Tooba, one day. I remember going into the D’Angelo Center, which was fairly new at the time, where I met my sister’s friends, some of whom were in their fourth or fifth year of pharmacy school. Their opinions led me to realize that completing the pharmacy program was far better than aspiring to go to medical school. I sat in on a class as well, which was taught by a professor who teaches biochemistry, Dr. Woon-Kai Low, to get a feel for what it was like to be in a class. After that, I made the decision to accept my admission into pharmacy school. My cousins, Andrew and Zach, and I have always had a good level of respect for each other. They went to a private Catholic school in Long Island, so going to St. John’s was a natural progression; having a professional degree at a doctorate level and being in a respectable profession were also attractive attributes.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry?

Just before I started pharmacy school, I worked at CVS until I became a pharmacy intern. When I became a pharmacy intern, I began to work at Mount Sinai Hospital. The goal was to expose myself to the profession, which I accomplished. I was torn between pursuing a residency or a fellowship, so I applied to both. What tipped the scale for me was having a rotation at the FDA. I had a very good preceptor, Jade Pham, who took me under her wing. I had a remarkably positive experience at the FDA, and I enjoyed the professionalism, which involved presenting at meetings, and thinking critically.

What experiences did you have in your fellowship, and how did it best train you for a career in the pharmaceutical industry?

Regeneron was extraordinary. I had a very good experience  as a fellow  and had a remarkable manager, Romana Hosain, who was an MD with an MPH. In addition to being exposed to risk management and pharmacovigilance, I loved the fast-paced environment. I was deeply involved in working with colleagues from regulatory affairs, clinical sciences, clinical development, and pharmacoepidemiology, which was a tremendous learning experience. I helped with the development of many  molecules that eventually became FDA approved and commercialized. I remember working with the marketing team once before a commercial launch. I was also exposed to toxicology and pharmacokinetics and had a sense of what it was like to work on a very sophisticated team, each member of whom had a high degree of excellence in a particular area. One of the most meaningful experiences was when I attended meetings the European Medicines Agency (EMA) office, which was in London at the time. We had an office in London as well, and experiencing a company that had operations in both the US and Europe was quite exciting.

Why did you decide to get an MBA, and how did your education at Columbia Business School complement your career in the pharmaceutical industry?

In 2019, after working at Regeneron for around three years, I had the life-changing opportunity to join the management team of what is now the largest privately held home infusion company in the United States, KabaFusion. That experience was monumental because I transitioned from being a manager to being an executive, and it was a different type of business than what I was exposed to at Regeneron. The company has grown exceptionally fast. When I joined, we had 450 employees, and now we have around 2000 employees (all in the span of around four years).

Since I was a pharmacy student, I aspired to pursue an MBA from a top-tier institution. Being a clinician and having very good technical skills are important, but having a foundational understanding of business was incredibly important in the advancement of my career. Exactly five years after I graduated pharmacy school, I started the MBA program at Columbia Business School in May 2021, and graduated in May 2023. Through CBS, I developed an even broader professional and personal network. I’ve been fortunate to have very good mentors who I’m still in contact with, and beyond that, friendships that will last a lifetime. Attending CBS was the right decision at the right time, and I feel very complete in my education with the MBA, especially since I developed important skills, which have helped me immensely.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities as Chief Clinical Officer at KabaFusion?

I wear a number of hats. The first is that we have several types of clinical research activities and clinical trials. I also meet regularly with key opinion leader physicians, some of whom I have the opportunity to meet on a regular basis, and work with directly and indirectly. We also work with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers for the launches of products. We also have programs that are oriented to digitizing the patient experience and leveraging novel technologies to deliver clinical excellence. We’re trying to understand how we can incorporate different types of innovations into our company, and expand the company’s existing strategies, which involve initiating ambulatory infusion centers throughout the US. I am involved with clinical projects, sales- and marketing-focused initiatives (some of which involve hospitals and health systems), and operational initiatives. I also have the opportunity to meet regularly with our investors and other key stakeholders. Lastly, we have a pharmacy residency and internship program at KabaFusion.

How do you give back to the St. John’s University community?

After I graduated from St. John’s, I was invited by a number of student organizations to speak on campus. These types of activities have waned in recent years, and I believe it’s because I’m a little removed from some of the current students, since I graduated in 2016. However, I have been consistently involved as a mentor through the St. John’s University Alumni Mentoring Program. I have had 3 or 4 formal mentees, and I plan to continue being involved from a mentorship perspective.

What tips do you have for students looking to enter the pharmaceutical industry?

Having a very thoughtful approach to pharmacy school is important. You should aim to get the most out of pharmacy school because a lot of time, energy, and money is being invested into this experience. Striving academically is important. Being involved on campus, in terms of holding meaningful leadership positions, is going to help you hone your leadership skills. Working at a pharmacy as a pharmacy student is also essential, as it teaches time management and prioritization skills, and gives you an appreciation for what it is like to work hard. If you have the opportunity to speak with people who have completed fellowship or residency programs, then you will better understand what path is best for you. As a student, I was active in speaking with graduates from fellowship and residency programs, and based on those discussions, I decided to pursue postgraduate training. Postgraduate training is not absolutely required but will benefit you in the long-term. And obviously, you’ve heard this before, networking is important. I don’t like the word “networking”, but it’s good to have genuine long-term relationships with people, and befriending people who can advise or benefit you directly or indirectly in terms of your career path. You could be the best student who’s really involved on campus and know what you want. But if you don’t have the social and professional connections, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, try to understand the landscape, then try to make an impact. The future is bright and the opportunities are endless.

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