The National Toxicology Program (NTP) welcomes Brian Berridge, D.V.M., Ph.D., as its new associate director on Jan. 7. He hopes to help NTP integrate cutting-edge toxicology methods, including animal studies, cell-based toxicity testing, and data intensive computer modeling.
As the former director of Worldwide Animal Research Strategy at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), he led efforts to improve animal and nonanimal methods for testing pharmaceuticals. He has contributed this expertise to the federal Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods since 2015.
“Brian brings a uniquely appropriate skill set to this position,” said former NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D. “He’s a veterinary pathologist by training with expertise in cardiotoxicity, and [has] an active interest in developing more human relevant safety assessment tools. I think he’ll do a terrific job leading the NTP.”
Translating pharma experience to environmental health
Berridge worked as a safety assessment pathologist at Eli Lilly and Company before moving to GSK, where he served first as a regulatory toxicologic pathologist. He is now looking forward to applying this experience to the NTP mission.
“Fundamentally, toxicology is all about understanding how toxicants, whether drugs or environmental chemicals, interact with biological systems,” Berridge said. Yet he acknowledged the difference in context.
In pharmaceutical testing, researchers know how much they give someone, how long the individual will to take it, and information on susceptibility and health. But with environmental toxicants, there may be less certainty. Berridge noted that dose can be harder to determine, and the effects are on populations rather than individuals.
Berridge began his career in pathology while on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. He completed his veterinary degree at Oklahoma State University and a pathology residency at Texas A&M. As a postdoc, he studied human cardiovascular devices and diseases in animals to inform treatment of human cardiovascular disease at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
Pursuing alternative methods
One part of Berridge’s role at GSK was decreasing dependence on animal studies by exploring alternative ways to test drugs under development, such as by using cells or computer modeling. These alternative toxicological methods are a priority for NTP.
At GSK, he also led a cross-pharma collaboration on tissue chip technology with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Tissue chip technologies use bioengineered devices, rather than animals or individual cells, to test whether drugs or other chemicals may be toxic to humans.
Berridge pointed out that the other part of his role at GSK was to optimize animal studies. “We recognize that such studies are important to our science and necessary for providing evidence that a drug may be useful and safe in patients,” he said.
“Traditionally, toxicologists sit in one camp or the other [animal or nonanimal], while I’ve been bridging those two,” he said. “NTP squarely bridges those two, which is why this role is really interesting to me.”
Environmental health — a mission worth doing
Berridge said that it has been satisfying to work in the pharmaceutical industry, developing drugs that help people live longer and feel better. “I’m interested in a bigger picture, particularly now that I have two granddaughters,” he added. “The environmental public health mission of NTP is really appealing.”
Berridge acknowledged that when environmental pollutants have long-term implications, for example, on aging or brain development, toxicology can become really challenging. “But it’s a mission worth doing,” he said. “It’s not easy, but even incremental progress can have real impact on people.”
Since moving to North Carolina in 2005, Berridge has lectured on cardiovascular toxicology and animal modeling at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Duke University. He currently mentors graduate students as an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University.
He joked that his daughter, a nurse at UNC Hospitals, may be pushing his family toward Tarheel blue. “She’s a cardiovascular transplant coordinator at UNC, so she actually manages patients with the devices that I used to study when I was in Houston, which is really cool,” he said.
Berridge and his family enjoy watersports like scuba diving, sailing, fishing, and kayaking, and he looks forward to teaching these skills to his granddaughters. “Of all the roles I’ve had, being Papa is my favorite,” he said.
(Virginia Guidry, Ph.D., is a technical writer and public information specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)