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My Cornell Story: Pearl (Hsu) Pugh ’93

periodiCALS, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 2016

Pearl (Hsu) Pugh ’93 is the Director of Marketing for Prostate Cancer at Janssen Biotech, Inc., a member of Johnson & Johnson’s Family of Companies. In her more than 23 years in the pharmaceutical industry, she has held numerous positions across several commercial functions as well as worked in different countries. The applied economics and business management major grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and currently resides in the greater Philadelphia region with her husband and two children. She is a member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women.

Do you believe that things happen in life for a reason? I do. It seems that my journey from Cornell to a career in the pharmaceutical industry was meant to be. 

In 1989, I entered Cornell as a freshman in the College of Engineering. I was strong in math and science and thought that engineering would be a good fallback career to medicine, my primary interest. However, after a few semesters in engineering, I decided to transfer into the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as an applied economics and business management (a.k.a. “Ag Ec”) major. In the two summers that followed, I interned at Walt Disney World and an Agway petroleum plant, which further confirmed my interest in business. In my senior year, I spent time at the Career Center on campus, trying to figure out what jobs to pursue. I applied to general management training programs across several industries, including retail, commercial banking, oil and pharmaceuticals.

Upon graduating from Cornell in 1993, I joined British pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham as part of a management development program. I worked in several rotational assignments, including human resources in the United States, marketing in Taipei, sales in London and global market research. It was an eye-opening experience, not only to work in various functional areas but also in countries with different languages, cultures and health-care systems. Thanks to my job, I visited with extended family in Taiwan and, more importantly, I met my British husband. Through my early career experiences, I quickly became a citizen of the world and cultivated a lifelong interest in international travel and culture. I have traveled to 23 countries so far—a privilege that I do not take for granted.

Since completing the management development program in 1995, I have continued to work on the commercial side, as opposed to the research and development (R&D) side, of the pharmaceutical industry. I have spent the majority of my career marketing medicines to treat a variety of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases and rare diseases.  I also worked for several years on scientific and clinical development collaborations between big pharma and biotech. Some of my most memorable professional experiences have come from meeting patients with cancer or rare diseases for whom innovations in medicines and drug development provide hope and a chance to extend their lives. In my current role, I lead the U.S. prostate cancer marketing team at Janssen Biotech.

Working in pharmaceuticals is both rewarding and challenging. Once my R&D colleagues have successfully discovered, developed, clinically tested and received FDA approval for a new drug, my job with the marketing team is to ensure that there is access to the medicine, that physicians are educated about the efficacy and side effects, and that patients are provided with educational materials about what the drugs are approved for and how to take the drugs, as well as important safety information. A huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes in pharmaceutical marketing, such as understanding patient and physician insights through market research, developing the promotional campaigns and materials, forecasting the demand for the supply and distribution, training and motivating the sales force, partnering with medical affairs physicians to understand any scientific gaps in the clinical development programs, collaborating with patient advocacy groups to provide educational resources for patients to learn more about their disease, and working with payer and government affairs teams to ensure new medicines are covered by insurance plans.

My work requires not only an understanding of marketing principles that I first learned in Professor Gene German’s classes as an “Ag Ec” major but also an ability to comprehend clinical and scientific data. Luckily for me, I had a strong science and business foundation upon which to build, thanks to my experience at Cornell. This turned out to be the perfect preparation for a career in pharmaceutical marketing. And I get to work in the health-care industry to help patients—though not as I had originally envisioned. It is almost as if this journey was meant to be.