FDA fellow conducts cancer therapeutics research Meet Emma Scott

Emma Scott

Emma Scott, Ph.D., presenting her poster on cancer genomics at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in 2019. Photo Credit: Emma Scott

Emma Scott, Ph.D., always knew that she wanted a career in science. As a child, she loved science and nature and was fascinated by things she learned in science class. Her curiosity was fostered throughout her academic career by many of her teachers and professors, and her interest in fields such as biology and chemistry only grew. Now, as an adult, Scott is continuing to apply her passion for science toward a career focused on improving public health.

Scott received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2008, after which she spent a few years working as a research technician before entering graduate school. Upon receiving her doctoral degree in molecular medicine from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, in 2017, Scott was unsure of her desired career path and wanted to explore careers outside of traditional academic research. Having previously participated in a part-time research project at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an undergraduate, Scott knew the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education Research Participation Program at the FDA was the perfect opportunity to explore her options while conducting post-doctoral research.

The ORISE Research Participation Program at the FDA is an educational and training program designed to provide college students, recent graduates and university faculty opportunities to connect with the unique resources of the FDA. Scott’s fellowship took place in the Translational Research Laboratory, which operates under a collaboration between CDER’s Office of Oncologic Diseases and the Office of Biotechnology Products and is part of Project NextGen Research in the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence.

Under the guidance of her mentor, Dickran Kazandjian, Scott conducted research using next-generation sequencing and genomics to improve the safety and effectiveness of cancer therapeutics. Throughout the course of her fellowship, she focused on three primary research projects covering different aspects of oncology therapeutics.

Scott’s first project involved developing a genomic model to identify patients that are at increased risk for developing immune-related adverse events when on immune checkpoint inhibitor therapies. The second project focused on identifying genetic determinants of the safety and efficacy of two recently approved targeted oncology therapies. The third project investigated trends in oncology drug development and the evolution of drug targets in the 21st century.

The ultimate goal of Scott’s research was to support the agency’s mission to advance and protect public health, with a specific focus on improving cancer treatment options for patients. As a result of her fellowship, Scott gained exposure to new areas of laboratory science and expanded her knowledge of drug development, clinical trials and translational research. She had the opportunity to be involved in establishing a new laboratory, attended many educational seminars and courses and strengthened her skills as a clinical scientist.

“The ORISE program has been instrumental in my career development and training and awarded me the opportunity to develop the expertise and skillset necessary for my current position,” said Scott. “I gained knowledge on drug regulation, review and labeling, clinical and nonclinical pharmacology and toxicology and drug development. These experiences added important clinical perspective to my formal training that was focused on basic and translational research and are extremely valuable in the next step in my career.”

Scott describes her experience as challenging but positive. Her time as an FDA fellow allowed her to explore the field of translational research and played an integral role in setting her on her current career path.

“I would definitely recommend the ORISE program because of its unique ability to offer an opening into the federal government, which can otherwise be very challenging to enter,” said Scott. “The educational nature of the program is also great for post-graduates looking to expand their knowledge and skillsets beyond their thesis research area.”

After the conclusion of her fellowship in January 2021, Scott transitioned to a clinical analyst position in the same office and laboratory within the Office of Oncologic Diseases in CDER at the FDA. She has continued her efforts on cancer therapeutics, and is grateful for the opportunity to see her fellowship projects through while continuing to advance her post-graduate career.

The FDA Research Participation Program is administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the FDA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).