Biopharma Industry Influencer: San Jose State University’s Tonja Green

headshot of Tonja Green

BioSpace recently surveyed readers, asking to nominate people they view as “influencers” in the biopharma industry. BioSpace is happy to profile Tonja Green, Program Director of the Master of Science program at San Jose State University (SJSU) in Medical Product Development Management.

Green earned her Master of Art degree in Psychology and Biology at San Jose State University and worked for about three years as a research assistant at Stanford University School of Medicine before entering the biopharma world as a clinical research associate and clinical program manager. 

From 1992 to 2008 she worked in various roles in clinical program management for biotech startups and biopharma companies, including Syntex and Abbott Diabetes Care. From 2004 to 2007 Green was senior clinical program manager of ARYx Therapeutics, and until June 2008, was clinical associate director of Arete Therapeutics.

Green told BioSpace that when San Jose State University planned the program in 2008, the university had “gone to different industry leaders throughout the Bay Area in California and surveyed and interviewed and so forth. They came up with the concept for what the degree would be, the types of courses and the different people that would be involved in it. And they hired me to run it.”

She notes that it was a difficult decision. She’d been involved in clinical trials since graduation and loved the work. She doesn’t miss the travel and airports, but feels she is more than compensated with the student interactions.

She continues some consulting, but not as much as she’d like because she has “a lot on my plate being director.”

The Medical Product Development Management program is for a Master of Science degree. Green emphasizes, as much of a mouthful as that title is, it was intentional not to limit it to clinical research management, because it includes bioinformatics and business courses and can be applied to medical devices or any kind of biopharma management positions. 

“We have four classes from the MBA program, what the needs of somebody in the industry would be, stats, biostatistics, two regulatory affairs classes that we’ve separated into diagnostics space and pharma-biologics,” Green adds. 

Of the four classes from the MBA program, two have been customized for the Medical Product Development Management curriculum. Green says the instructor for the financing and accounting section recently retired, so she’s working on the curriculum for Biomedical Business. “We’re going to change it to more drug safety and pharmaceutical business.”

This year there are 45 students in the program split into two cohorts. Some are people already working in the industry. Many have life science backgrounds, but Green says some have psychology degrees, engineering degrees, and in some cases, people with liberal arts backgrounds who are involved in the industry and want to the program to help them advance into other areas.

For the programs’ instructors outside of SJSU faculty, Green calls on industry professionals. “I’m in charge of the core clinical course and in those courses, I bring in the experts, guest lecturers, people from all different disciplines who can speak to the topics current in the industry.”

That includes a director at Cardinal Health, someone who worked for contract research organization Bioclinica, and a former director of clinical at Abbott who is now a consultant, and others. 

Graduates of the program have gone on to numerous well-known companies. “I’ve got a lot in quality assurance,” Green says, “but it’s pretty widespread, with individuals going into positions depending on their prior background and their interests. Genentech and Gilead are big champions for hiring our people, as is Abbott. Abbott supplied a grant to start the program.”

Not surprisingly, Green finds that her practical experience and background were very helpful in developing and running the program. “I could really add a lot, not just to develop a curriculum. I knew exactly what types of things people needed to understand the big picture and the details of the regulations, and the clinical practices in order to make it applicable to the real world.”

It seems fitting that Green was chosen as an influencer since she clearly loves her students and remains in contact with many of her alumni. “I love the students, I love the interactions. My alumni are very involved. To see their growth and them launching their careers in clinical, quality, regulatory areas, is great. Some have been in it for a while and advanced in their careers—some of my alumni could hire me now.”

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