Alumni - Molecular Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery

What Starts Here Changes the World

Pharmaceutics group photo 2016

Graduates from the Molecular Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery division are making outstanding contributions to the field. 

Alumni from our program typically progress directly to permanent positions in academia as well as the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

Alumni Spotlight

Irnela Bajrovic, Ph.D.

Irnela Bajrovic, Ph.D.

Irnela Bajrovic was a PhRMA foundation fellow as doctoral candidate and graduated with her Ph.D. in 2020 from the lab of Maria Croyle, with research focused on the development and characterization of a novel thin film vaccine dosage form. Following graduation in 2020, Irnela joined Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (AskBio) in Research Triangle, North Carolina, as a Scientist in the Analytical Department. During her time at AskBio, Irnela has identified a novel, universal formulation candidate for multiple gene therapy programs and has established thorough stability libraries for each program. Irnela now serves as the Formulation Team Lead, a group she has singlehandedly created, focused on addressing the formulation concerns of multiple AskBio departments. Irnela is also passionate about volunteer and mentoring work and has been working with BOSANA and BAPA (Bosnian American Professionals Association) mentoring at risk Bosnian youth both domestically and abroad.

Dr. Ashlee Brunaugh

Ashlee Brunaugh, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Ashlee Brunaugh graduated with her Pharm.D. in 2016 and Ph.D. in 2020, under the direction of Hugh Smyth. Following her graduate work, Ashlee worked for the pharmaceutical start-up Via Therapeutics as a Senior Scientist and later Director of Strategies and Operations. Through this role, she obtained federal funding for the commercialization of several projects related to her dissertation through the NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research program. During this time, she also co-founded another start-up, CloXero, which focuses on the development of inhaled drug products for treatment of respiratory infections. In 2021, Ashlee joined the faculty of the University of Michigan Pharmaceutical Sciences department as a tenure-track assistant professor. Her lab focuses on the elucidation of the underlying mechanisms for respiratory disease progression to determine appropriate therapeutic targets and develop novel formulation and inhaled drug delivery approaches to improve patient outcomes. Ashlee is passionate about both Ph.D. and Pharm.D. education, and she co-authored an introductory textbook on pharmaceutics entitled “Essential Pharmaceutics” with Hugh Smyth and Bill Williams, which is utilized in courses around the world.
Jin Huk Choi, Ph.D.

Jin Huk Choi, Ph.D.

Jin Huk Choi graduated with his Ph.D. in 2012, from the lab of Maria Croyle with research focused on the development of vaccination strategy that has potential to bypass pre-existing immunity to adenoviral vector. With his graduate work, he received the Research Excellence Award in Pharmacy Research Day, AAPS Graduate Student Symposium Award, and Editor`s Choice Award from the American Chemical Society. Following his graduate work, Jin Huk did post-doctoral training with Bruce Beutler M.D. at UT Southwestern Medical Center to identify non-redundant regulators of adaptive immunity using unbiased mouse forward genetics. In 2019, Jin Huk was appointed as a tenure-track assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Center for the Genetics of Host Defense/Department of Immunology. His lab focuses on mechanistic understanding of the immune cell development to gain novel insights into the persistence of autoreactive lymphocytes in the naïve repertoire and how malignantly transformed lymphocytes achieve cell autonomous growth. In 2020, Jin Huk was selected to receive Distinguished Researcher Awards by the UT Southwestern President’s Research Council designed to honor and help further the work of early career researchers who are emerging leaders in their fields.

Dr. Daniel Davis

Daniel A. Davis Jr., Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Danny Davis graduated with his Pharm.D. in May 2019 and Ph.D. in 2021.  Bill Williams was his mentor.  Danny is working as a pharmaceutical scientist at DisperSol Technologies (Georgetown, TX).  Danny primarily works with external clients to overcome the solubility limitations of their most challenging APIs by enabling them into amorphous solid dispersions using the KinetiSol technology. The final products are robust pharmaceutical formulations that contain minimal impurities, are molecularly stable, have a high drug loading to minimize pill burden, and enable adequate bioavailability enhancement for the most challenging to deliver active pharmaceutical ingredients. He also serves as the Social Media Editor for AAPS PharmSciTech, an official journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. 

Dr. Siyuan Huang

Siyuan Huang, Ph.D.

Siyuan Huang received his Ph.D. in 2017, and Bill Williams was his mentor.  He focused on utilizing hot melt extrusion to improve solubility of poorly water-soluble drugs. After graduation, Siyuan joined Eli Lilly & Co (Indianapolis, IN), and has held a variety of roles in small molecule and peptide oral formulation prototyping and development areas. He is currently a senior advisor in the Synthetic Molecule Design and Development department working on formulation prototyping and development for phase I and beyond assets. He is also currently leading the pharmaceutical sciences recruiting effort at Lilly.

Dr. Scott Jermain

Scott V. Jermain, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Scott Jermain graduated with his Pharm.D. in 2017 and Ph.D. in 2019. Bill Williams was his mentor.  Scott joined Gilead Sciences in Foster City, California in October of 2019 and is currently a Senior Research Scientist I. He works in the Formulation and Process Development (FPD) group, which is a group that is responsible for developing, optimizing, and scaling up drug product formulations for new chemical entities. FPD interfaces with the research team during compound identification and early preclinical pharmacokinetic studies and continues to support the compound through process development and scale up. Scott’s position in FPD provides him the opportunity to lead programs throughout all phases of clinical development (i.e., pre-clinical to Phase I and all the way through NDA authoring). Scott currently supports programs in Gilead’s HIV and Inflammation portfolios.

Dr. Michael Lowinger

Michael Lowinger, Ph.D.

Michael Lowinger joined Merck in 2004, focused on various aspects of drug product design and development. Through the progression of various roles, Mike has overseen the development of over two dozen compounds from early Discovery target validation through late-stage process development and commercialization, including two approved drug products and several in late stage development. Mike previously served as area lead for Merck’s oral product HIV development pipeline, covering 8 development compounds and various combination products. He is currently Director of Oral Formulation Sciences, responsible for drug product development of Merck’s oral pipeline.

Mike completed his doctoral dissertation in Molecular Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery from The University of Texas at Austin, where he studied sustained release drug delivery applications of poly(urethanes). He previously obtained his M.S. in Pharmaceutical Science at Temple University and his B.S. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware. 

Since 2006, Mike has led global cross-functional technology development teams focused on hot melt extrusion and spray drying processes at Merck, including leadership of an innovation effort dedicated to reducing pill burden of poorly soluble drug compounds. Mike has authored 23 publications/patents.

Dr. Dave Miller

Dave A. Miller, Ph.D.

Dave A. Miller, Ph.D. is the Chief Scientific Officer at DisperSol Technologies. Prior to his current position, Dr. Miller served as Vice President of Research and Development at DisperSol Technologies for ten years. Before joining DisperSol, he was a Senior Principal Scientist at Hoffmann-La Roche. Dr. Miller specializes in formulation and processing technologies for improving oral bioavailability of insoluble small molecules. He has applied his expertise toward advancing numerous drug candidates through all stages of development from early discovery to line extension. Dr. Miller is an original inventor of the pharmaceutical applications of the KinetiSol technology and continues to be a primary innovative driver for application and expansion of the drug delivery platform. He has published over 40 research articles in peer-reviewed journals, authored 8 book chapters, and is co-editor of the First, Second, and Third Editions of the textbook, Formulating Poorly Water-Soluble Drugs. He is a co-inventor on numerous granted and pending patents worldwide. Dr. Miller holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics from The University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Hannah O'Mary

Hannah O’Mary, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Hannah O’Mary graduated with her Pharm.D. in 2014 and her Ph.D. in 2019 from the lab of Zhengrong Cui, with research focused on the development of nanoparticles for treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions. Following graduation in 2019, Hannah joined Merck in Rahway, New Jersey, as a Senior Scientist in the Biopharmaceutics and Specialty Dosage Forms group (now part of Sterile and Specialty Products). During her time at Merck, Hannah has worked as a formulator on implantable and inhaled small-molecule formulations, and she currently serves as lead formulator for a late-stage inhaled program. Hannah is passionate about mentorship and outreach at Merck. Since 2021, she has served as a mentor for undergraduate students from the Douglass Residential College for Women and has mentored two summer interns researching the formulation and development of inhaled biologics. Hannah also actively supports Merck’s pharmaceutical science recruiting efforts from UT Austin.

Dr. Sawittree Willy Sahakijpijarn

Sawittree “Willy” Sahakijpijarn, Ph.D.

Willy Sahakijpijarn received her Ph.D. in 2020 and worked as a post-doctoral fellow in the Williams’ laboratory completing key research studies related to her dissertation.  Bill Williams was her mentor.  She presently works as a Senior Research Scientist at TFF Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (TFF).  Willy has a very interesting story in that her research during her graduate studies focused on inhaled tacrolimus made by thin film freezing, and patents related to her work are licensed to TFFP.  The inhaled TFF tacrolimus dry powder inhalation product has advanced into Phase 2 clinical testing. Willy commented that she benefited from graduate school in MPDD because it taught her research and technical skills, effective communication skills, problem-solving, and time management.

Dr. Rishi Thakkar

Rishi Thakkar, Ph.D.

Rishi Thakkar graduated with his Ph.D. in 2021 under the mentorship of Mo Maniruzzaman. His dissertation research was focused on formulating small molecules with solubility limitations as amorphous solid dispersions and cocrystals by utilizing hot-melt extrusion and additive manufacturing processes. Rishi joined AbbVie, Inc., in February 2022 and is currently holding a Senior Scientist I position with the neurotoxins and biologics product development (NBPD) group in Irvine. At NBPD, Rishi gets the opportunity to lead late-stage drug product development, manufacturing process development, scale-up/tech transfer activities, and author BLA submissions for neurotoxin assets in the clinical pipeline.
Dr. Yajie Zhang

Yajie Zhang, Ph.D.

Yajie received her Ph.D. in 2020, then joined Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Bill Williams was her mentor.  Yajie’s research focused on advanced delivery systems for biologics, including inhalation delivery by dry powder devices.  After joining Regeneron, she has led and/or participated in drug delivery and formulation work directly for COVID-19 programs. Other than contributing to the fast-paced development of COVID-19 treatments, Yajie has applied expertise she learned from Dr. Williams’ lab to help Regeneron expand their special dosage form platforms.