Dr. Lawrence “Lars” Trost is a Preclinical Development Consultant at the company he founded, Belleropharm, LLC. His core expertise is assisting clients with the design and execution of toxicology studies intended to support the safety of products in development for Investigational New Drug (IND) and New Drug Application (NDA) submissions. Dr. Trost completed his Ph.D. in the Curriculum in Toxicology at UNC in the lab of Dr. John Lemasters, where he studied the role of the mitochondrial permeability transition in necrosis, apoptosis, and autophagy. Prior to founding Belleropharm, Dr. Trost was employed by Chimerix, Inc., where he was the Executive Director of Toxicology and Pharmacokinetics and the Project Leader of a team working to develop a new antiviral treatment for smallpox. Dr. Trost has also worked at Cato Research, Triangle Pharmaceuticals and Gilead Sciences.
How did you become interested in toxicology?
I first heard the word “Toxicology” when I was a senior in undergrad. I was a chemistry major and had a work study job in the stockroom, and part of my job was to dispose of hazardous waste. One day, a professor left several bottles of chemicals with a note saying, “Do not touch any of these, call me when you are ready to pack them for disposal – signed, Kendall B. Wallace.” I asked Dr. Wallace what was in the bottles (it was parathion and derivatives), and I was intrigued to learn about a substance that was so extremely toxic. Since I desperately wanted to avoid going to dental school (my father’s wish), I inquired about doing a project in Dr. Wallace’s lab. I stayed to complete my master’s degree, and when I decided to do a PhD, Dr. Wallace recommended I go to UNC.
What was your first job out of graduate school?
My first job out of graduate school was as a Clinical Research Scientist at Cato Research. Although nothing I did in grad school prepared me for the job and it wasn’t directly in toxicology, I got the opportunity to meet a lot of different people and learn about a broad range of topics relevant to pharmaceutical development, so it was really a great experience. After Cato, I went to Triangle Pharmaceuticals as a Senior Toxicologist, where I was responsible for designing and monitoring nonclinical safety studies for pharmaceutical candidates intended to treat HIV. It was the late 90’s, so there was still a great need for new drugs to treat HIV and AIDS. My boss there was a great mentor who truly taught me how to be a pharmaceutical toxicologist, and he also encouraged me to become a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology, which is necessary for the job I do today.
That sounds like an interesting path! So how did you find your way to consulting?
After Triangle Pharmaceuticals, I worked at Chimerix, where I headed a large team and also had a lot of managerial responsibilities. After 11 years working on one molecule, I decided I was ready to do something different, and I realized I had acquired a lot of expertise that I could sell to clients. I called my friends who are consultants, and they helped me get started. Maintaining my professional network by keeping in touch with my UNC Toxicology cohort and my professional contacts and by attending SOT every year has been essential to the success of my consulting business. Consulting is a service industry and since I don’t advertise, business comes by way of referral, so my network is very important!
So what is your typical day like now?
My job varies- sometimes I have clients with in-house toxicology expertise, and I help them solve problems or plan their regulatory strategy. In other cases, clients without in-house expertise may need me to design and execute an entire toxicology program for their product. That includes collating study data into regulatory submissions and defending it before FDA if required. To do this, I must keep up-to-date on current FDA regulations. Sometimes, a client will contact me because an unexpected adverse event occurred during a clinical trial or they discovered a new impurity in their product. For these projects, I help clients design studies or craft responses to address these unexpected occurrences, hopefully allowing them to proceed with their clinical trial.
What are some of the valuable skills and experiences you gained from your time at UNC?
I am forever grateful to Dr. Lemasters, my grad school mentor, because he showed me how to be a good scientist. Although the nature of the experiments I do today are nothing like those I did in grad school, he taught me the scientific method, the principals of good experimental design, and how to evaluate and present data.
What is some of the advice you would give to current students/postdocs?
For students and postdocs who are seeking a career in industry, I think it’s important to be flexible and to remember that your first job probably won’t be the “perfect” job. Rather than chasing a high salary, it’s more important to gain a variety of experiences and to always be thinking about how your current experience can set you up for your next job. To that end, I think it’s smart to be willing to change jobs if the new opportunity leads to new experiences and growth. Success and a high salary will follow.