November 2021 – Preemie Professional Highlight

Susan McCune, MD
Neonatologist, MD
Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD)
Center for Rare Diseases and Pediatrics

PREEMIEWORLD:  How long have you been working in your field?

Dr. McCune:  18 years in academia (including taking care of patients in the NICU), 18 years at the FDA working on therapeutic development for children, 2 months at PPD working on the implementation of trials in rare diseases and pediatrics

PREEMIEWORLD:  Why did you choose your current profession?

Dr. McCune:  I was born preterm but my only real issue has been myopia – I was fortunate. When I was a resident in pediatrics, I fell in love with the patients and the parents in the NICU. I am very particular about details and so the daily management of fluids, medications and ventilator settings in the tiniest babies made me feel that I was helping them to get through the first few months of life. I enjoyed talking to parents about what to expect on the preemie journey. I was frustrated that we didn’t have therapies for neonatal specific diseases and I joined the FDA to work to address the public health need to develop therapies for pediatrics in general, and neonates specifically. Recently, I have moved to Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD) which is a clinical research organization. I am working on the implementation of clinical trials for neonatal specific therapies. Babies that are admitted to the NICU need treatments that ensure that they are able to lead long and healthy lives.

PREEMIEWORLD:  What do you want other professionals to know about what you do?

Dr. McCune:  I am very passionate that we need to develop therapies for diseases that are unique for neonates. We need to design trials with a higher likelihood of success including understanding better dosing, better biomarker identification to enrich trial populations, and identification of endpoints that are clinically meaningful for the patients and their parents.

PREEMIEWORLD:  What advice do you give to preemie parents?

Dr. McCune:  Your time in the NICU is very stressful. There are the first few days when things are happening on a minute by minute level and things seem very confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – lots of questions. Then there will be a period of relative quiet when everyone takes a deep breath. Don’t forget to ask questions during this time as well. Finally, there is a phase that I describe as watching the grass grow. Things are going well but nothing seems to be moving fast enough and it seems forever before you are able to go home. Don’t get frustrated – just spend as much time as you can with your baby. And keep asking questions about what it will be like when you go home. And I always say that preemies are very unpredictable – just when you think things are going well they may have a setback. Don’t get frustrated and keep asking questions.

PREEMIEWORLD:  Fun Facts: Tell us a fun or quirky fact about you:

Dr. McCune:  I do work with fused glass and during the pandemic my son and I started doing woodworking.

PREEMIEWORLD:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Dr. McCune:  I want to thank all the parents and the preemies for teaching us to be better physicians and more caring individuals.