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RESEARCHER PROFILE

David Roth, MD

Vice President, Medicines Development Leader at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

Daily Discoveries

A clinical nephrologist by training, Dr. David Roth, MD, practiced medicine for several years before realizing the impact of his work could be greatly expanded if he transitioned to biopharmaceutical research. “You cannot impact as many lives as a physician as you can when you help develop a successful medicine,” he says.

 

In 1997, Dr. Roth joined GSK as a researcher, and during his more than 20-year history with the company, he has been part of the team studying lupus treatments with the hope of finding a cure. Today, he is a vice president and medicines development leader.

Research Snapshot

Lupus primarily affects women of child-bearing age, devastating their bodies and minds during the years commonly spent building a career or starting a family. The condition is the result of an overactive immune system that cannot differentiate between foreign cells and those belonging to the patient, resulting in systemic inflammation in and outside the body. Nothing is safe from lupus, and symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, rash, hair loss, anxiety, depression and fever.

 

Scientists are unsure of the root cause of lupus, but researchers like Dr. Roth are working every day to uncover new and better treatments for lupus patients.

The Driving Force

Early in his career as a nephrologist, Dr. Roth remembers making the evening rounds at a hospital in New York, where he passed a young mother with lupus, who was crying in her bed. Upon his asking about her pain, she told him about all the things the disease had begun to take from her: her muscles, her joints, her appearance, her ability to be a mother to her children in the way she had wanted.

 

“That night, sitting with her, has never left me, even though it was more than 30 years ago,” he says. “If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.”

Challenges and Collaboration

There is no “typical” day for Dr. Roth, and if you were to walk into the GSK offices, you’d find him troubleshooting or analyzing clinical trials; ensuring researchers at the more than 300 clinical trial sites he manages have what they need; or reviewing data before it is submitted to a regulatory body, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for approval.

 

Accustomed to the ups and downs of drug development, he recognizes that difficult moments are part of the process.

 

“Biopharmaceutical research takes a long time before you get any positive feedback,” he says. “But when the process gets difficult, at GSK we always go back to the patient. I tell my teams to avoid focusing on the aggravating details of the moment, whether administrative hurdles or regulatory setbacks.”

“We can overcome all of these challenges if we focus on the end-game: developing a medicine that can help patients.”   

Lupus researchers have made great strides toward understanding the fundamental nature of the disease, and Dr. Roth says this should lead to increasing options for patients in the future.

 

“My message to patients is to hang in there,” he says. “There are a lot of people who understand what you’re going through and working as hard as they can to help in some way. It takes time, but eventually, we’ll get there. We’ll get to better treatments, and maybe one day a cure.”