As the pharmaceutical industry's most prominent spokesperson on health care reform, David Brennan '75 has sat squarely in the hot seat this past year. From Congress to the White House, he has an attentive audience when asserting that "real reform has to include the pharmaceutical industry as a strong partner."
Because of his position, Brennan was one of the chief authors of last fall's agreement between the pharmaceutical industry, the White House, and the Senate Finance Committee - an agreement that President Obama praised as a "significant breakthrough" for reforming health care.
Credentials plus stamina
Brennan certainly has all the credentials. In 2006 he took over the reins as CEO of AstraZeneca, the world's fifth largest pharmaceutical company, and last spring he was elected chair of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's trade group. And like the offensive tackle he was at Gettysburg, he has been the go-to guy for legislators and others who value his expertise, his composure, and his ability to cut to the chase when it comes to complex issues like health care reform.
"He has that capacity to engage you," said Bill Tauzin, a former U.S. congressman who now lobbies for the pharmaceutical sector. That has been vital, according to Tauzin, in winning over skeptical reform advocates who have not always been supportive of the industry. "David has given us clear instructions to find common ground."
Finding that common ground is a formidable challenge in itself. When combined with the responsibility of managing a complex global enterprise during a recession, Brennan's plate has been overflowing. He seems nonplussed by a schedule that would challenge anyone but a super type A personality. Up at 5 a.m., Brennan exercises at home in London and watches BBC World News before settling into his Mayfair office before 7:30. His typical workday ends about 7 p.m., but business dinners often follow. He travels three weeks in four,crisscrossing continents in his role as CEO of a company that does business in more than 100 countries as well as shuttling between London and Washington to represent big pharma's interests. "There's a five-hour time difference, so this year on some days I work all day in London, and then I have a few more hours in the evening to work on American business interests," he said.
That drive and energy have served Brennan well during his 35 years as a fast tracker in the business, but he is clear about his priorities. "Balance is important, and my family comes first," he said. Married to his childhood sweetheart, Dottie, the couple has four children and six grandchildren.
"All of my kids visited Gettysburg when they were looking at colleges," Brennan said. "Two of my daughters were swimmers, and that factored into Kelly's (Class of 2000) decision to come to Gettysburg, where she still holds the school record for the 100-meter butterfly and was a three-time All American. On the day I was picking Kelly up at the airport after she had competed in the high school YMCA nationals, my wife called to tell me Kelly had decided where she was going to college. I met her at the airport, grabbed her bags, and hoisted about 100 pounds of wet towels over my shoulder. I told her to tell me how she made her decision before she told me which college she chose. 'I had a feeling,' she said, ‘when I was swimming the 100-meter leg of the medley relays. That's it, I'm going to Gettysburg.'
Unlocking the secrets of aging
How do muscles age, and can exercise slow the aging process? A Gettysburg student's original research is helping to answer those questions, thanks to a grant from the American Physiological Society (APS).
As one of only 24 APS Undergraduate Research Fellows across the nation, biology major Dawnette Urcuyo '10 is collaborating closely with health sciences Prof. Josef Brandauer. The two have teamed up to extend Brandauer's research into sarcopenia, the age-related decline of muscle mass.
The research team also includes two groups of mice - one that has learned to run on a laboratory treadmill, and another that gets to lie around. After an hour of scurrying, Urcuyo and Brandauer compare levels of key proteins in the active mice's muscles to those in the sedentary group.
Their work has shown that exercise may increase levels of a potentially age-fighting molecule called Nampt. The next step will be to see which types of exercise are most effective.
Urcuyo, who hopes to publish their findings in a scientific journal, has already reported preliminary results at a regional meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and will present in April at an APS conference in California.
"Dawnette is doing great work," Brandauer said. "Her project ties in beautifully with the liberal arts curriculum. She has to think and work independently and synthesize ideas from different areas into one coherent message."
Following graduation, plans to work in a research lab for a year before entering medical school. Urcuyo talks about her research in a video at www.gettysburg.edu/news/urcuyo.