Carla Canuso started her career as a psychiatric nurse working with patients suffering from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. This work sparked an interest to further her education through medical school, which led to a residency in Psychiatry and eventually a position among the faculty of Harvard Medical School. After seven years at Harvard, she transitioned to Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Janssen) in 2002, where she has been ever since. She is currently a senior director of neuroscience clinical development, and her day-to-day work focuses on finding treatments for patients at imminent risk for suicide.
The Driving Force
“One of the delights of my career, having moved from clinical research to the biopharmaceutical industry, is I’ve never had to leave my area of passion, which is psychiatry,” says Carla. “I loved being at the bedside of patients. I was also really fascinated by the psychopathology and the biological basis of mental illnesses. I was drawn to psychiatry because it is a field where so much more research is needed to better understand and treat these common illnesses.”
Carla is particularly interested in young adult and adolescent populations, and much of her career has been dedicated to studying people younger than 35 years of age. Her current work includes managing a clinical trial at Janssen to study the effects of a potential new treatment for adolescents at risk for suicide. “Often mental illnesses strike people when they are young, robbing them of some of the most productive years of their lives,” Carla says.
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward
One of the biggest challenges mental health patients face is the stigma around mental illness and substance abuse, and Carla says this hinders patients from oftentimes seeking necessary treatment. The solution, she says, is to destigmatize mental illness. This can be achieved through the better understanding of the underlying biology of these brain diseases, and the development of more effective treatments.
“We are facing an epidemic,” she says. “If we don’t advance, we become a workforce that isn’t competitive. Suicide rates are rising. Our society is knowledge-based and is becoming more stressful – and the global burden is becoming larger. Mental illness takes an incredible personal toll, not only through the suffering experienced by the patients themselves, but also by their close friends and family. Ultimately, there are many social and economic consequences of not advancing the field of neuroscience and mental health research.”
Still, Carla remains positive about the future of neuroscience because she works with people who are collaborative and who understand the need to do more in this space for patients. “There’s a lot of collaboration happening across stakeholders and even across companies to help bring better medicines to more patients sooner,” she says.
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