Dr. Jason Fine completed his PhD in 2012 in Dr. James R. Carlyle’s laboratory at the Sunnybrook Research Institute. His area of study was on how natural killer cells recognize self versus non-self for appropriate target recognition. Jason shares with us his journey and experiences from his graduate studies to his current role as senior clinical reviewer for Health Canada, where he evaluates the safety and efficacy of non-prescription drugs.

Flexibility and being unafraid of trying new things were the foundations of Jason’s academic path and career. After completing a Bachelor of Science at Carleton University, Jason rotated through three laboratories before interviewing Dr. Alberto Martin, who pointed him in the direction of his collaborator, Dr. James R. Carlyle. Open to new experiences, he made the leap. Aside from his day-to-day graduate student work, over the next two years he helped establish Dr. Carlyle’s laboratory, acting in the role of a laboratory manager to negotiate and source equipment to furnish the brand new laboratory.

More to graduate studies

Believing that “there is more to graduate school than just laboratory work,” Jason helped with IGSA (Immunology Graduate Student Association) and later became the Co-President for 2 years. During his time with IGSA, he and Dr. Korosh Kianizad created the little skits that are now presented at the yearly departmental retreat and holiday party. For Jason, this was an opportunity to participate in something beyond just the day-to-day science work and to develop skills away from the bench. The only way to know what your preferences are, he believes, is by being flexible and trying different things. In his current position, he continues to develop these skills by organizing team-building activities for his Division and Directorate as part of the Morale and Recognition Committee. And, of course, the video skit tradition has continued at his current workplace as well!

Through his exploration and self-discovery, Jason knew that academia was not the sole end goal after graduation. After applying and interviewing broadly, Jason landed a post-doctoral position funded by NSERC with Health Canada, where he studied immunotoxicology focusing on environmental toxins and food contaminants and their effects on food allergy. The position was limited to three years, which provided a definitive end date that would allow him to move on.

Given his multiple interests and openness to try new things, Jason landed a position as a flow cytometry manager with Health Canada. It was not a scientist position, but he thought, “You know what? I don’t know everything about flow [cytometry]; I will still be learning, and there are skills that I can learn from this.” Indeed, it was a position that involved many different aspects of flow cytometry, from protocol design with scientists, to instrument maintenance, to running and analyzing samples. Jason stated that he thoroughly enjoyed the position and was able to better appreciate the intricacies of the technology and its impact on research.

During this time, Jason continued to compete for other positions and was ultimately able to obtain a position as a clinical evaluator with Health Canada. He committed to the job and kept an open mind to see where it would lead as this was his first time leaving “the bench”. Because the position involved a lot of different tasks and skills, “you become a jack-of-all trades,” said Jason. When asked about his role, he explains,

There are always multiple projects on the go. One day I could be reviewing an analgesic product, which has a 300-day review standard, but within the review, there are other separate files that need to be addressed, such as providing scientific input to policy, answering public enquiries, conducting product classifications, and holding pre-submission meetings. When you see a product recall, a health risk assessment was conducted. It could be due to a contaminant, something leeching into a product, or even microbial contamination.

These assessments must be thorough and conducted under a very tight timeline.

Drug Identification Number

Jason’s team oversees any product with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) that we typically see on a pharmacy shelf or behind the counter. There are strict regulatory requirements that over-the-counter products must meet to receive market authorization. The product range is quite wide, notably, they include hard-surface disinfectants and alcohol-free hand sanitizers, which made the team’s workload explode during the pandemic. An acute awareness of science and methodology is important. There are many areas of focus with a wide variety of different topics. Jason stated that the skills and lessons that he learned in his PhD played an important role in his current position. He knew how to research various topics, amass data, and create a comprehensive review based on the data. He could also assess clinical trial data objectively when reviewing drug submissions.

“Rx to OTC switches”

In his position, Jason has had the opportunity to review “Rx to OTC switches”, which occurs when a prescription drug seeks non-prescription status. He also played an important role on the cannabis file prior to legalization in Canada. He stated that he “was part of the team that helped develop the natural health product regulation and prescription drug list amendment”. There are many opportunities to be involved in different projects, all of which required scientific input.

In addition to the science and research, Jason also contributes to developing responses for media requests. At the frontline, there is considerably more opportunity to interact with drug manufacturers and stakeholders who are submitting to get DINs, as well as regulatory consultants. In some ways, there is a customer service aspect to the position in that responses must be balanced. He must listen to sponsors and provide responses/arguments with sound scientific rationales in accordance with the Food and Drugs Act and its associated regulations. It certainly provides a different perspective to that of a scientist who have generally existed “behind closed doors”.

At the end of the conversation, when asked about advice that he would give to the future generation, Jason echoed what he has shown throughout his own career; the importance of trying new things that interest you, even if they do not directly relate to your perception of what your end goal looks like. Furthermore, he emphasized to not “assume your first job is your last job”. After graduate studies there was this drive and feeling that there was some sort of rush to get to a final step as your first step. Succeeding at any job, whether as a research scientist or evaluator is not solely dependent on hard skills. The soft skills carry considerable importance. In his words, “be patient, be sincere, and I encourage students to go out and seek new opportunities.”

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Ke Fan Bei

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