Different, Not Less: Why We Need to Ensure Clinical Research is Patient-Driven

April 30, 2019

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we spoke with Brian Catton, PharmD, who is a Medical Information Pharmacist at C3i Solutions. 

Within the past few years, Brian has made strides on social media with his “Different, Not Less” campaign, where he sheds light on Autism and awareness surrounding the disorder.



Brian, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at CRF Bracket. We were inspired by your “Different, Not Less” campaign and wanted to talk to you more in depth about it in honor of Autism Awareness Month. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I graduated from Shenandoah University in August of 2010 with my Doctor of Pharmacy degree, and have five years of pharmacy practice experience in various settings such as home infusion, palliative care, and community clinical pharmacy. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association Board of Directors nominated me as their New Practitioner Board of Director. In 2014, the New Jersey Pharmacists Association awarded me with the Distinguished Young Pharmacists Award due to my passion to advance pharmacy practice through my medical communications, continuing education presentations, and driving patient-centered healthcare forward.

In July 2015, I married my wife, Lisa. In thinking about our life together, my (at the time) work schedule would distort my time with people who matter most. As a result, the following month, I accepted a position as a Scientific Communications Manager at AlphaBioCom in King of Prussia. Following that, I switched over to the pharmaceutical call center industry, where I shared off-label, unsolicited information to healthcare professionals, documented adverse events and product complaint reports, and evaluated temperature excursions.

To say that I was able to accomplish these professional feats with high-functioning autism (HFA) is remarkable!


What made you want to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry?

Yeah, about that! One thing I appreciate about my parents is that they made me think early on in high school about what to do career wise. From Freshman year to the first half of my Junior year, I explored wanting to major in medicine to vocal performance to computer science to instrumental performance to architecture. Finally, I made the goal to have a final answer by the end of my Junior year. And then came Honors Chemistry. I loved it! I then knew I wanted to do something with chemistry; conveniently, there was a “Careers in Chemistry” section in the back of my textbook, with pharmacist as one of those options. I then declared that as my major.

Over the summer, I met my mentor, Bill Healey, who was the then Executive Vice President of the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey. He helped me establish connections with researchers at Sanofi Aventis, and I was selected to be the student spokesperson for their inaugural life sciences career fair.

Fast forward years later, and I enjoyed learning about pharmacology and pharmacokinetics and asking the why and how questions.

Tell us more about your “Different, Not Less” campaign and what inspired you to create it?.

Funny enough, my wife took me out to see The Greatest Showman last year and the one scene/song that gripped me was This is Me. The lyrics, the context, and recently opening up with one of my closest coworkers and supervisors about my condition. This was one of those “do or die” moments. Either break out and shatter the stigma by showing that having autism means I’m #DifferentNotLess, or remain silent and be broken. Since last April, I decided to start self-advocating with #DifferentNotLess posts about autism awareness for myself AND for those on the spectrum.

How can we make Autism research more patient-centric?

That’s exactly how you do it. Ask the “how” questions. Because the Autism spectrum is broad with a complexity of speech, sensory, neurological, gastrointestinal, and mental dysfunction, there’s no “one size fits all autism mold” that people with ASD will fall under. In order to make clinical studies more “ASD centric,” you must factor in the person as a whole and find ways to make the necessary accommodations. And contrary to some opinions, most of these requests are small, simple solutions that can be made.

What sort of “how” questions?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are exactly that: a spectrum. And thankfully, with DSM-V criteria broadening the definition, people with ASD have a variety of manifestations - be it with social functioning, dietary restrictions, behavioral complications, biochemical complications. ASDs are no longer a “one size fits all” disorder. Understand what sorts of strengths/weaknesses they have; assist them with figuring out how to go around, across, or over certain barriers (eg, social skills, coping mechanisms).

Do you think further research will have an impact in the next generation?

Absolutely! While there have been advancements made, there’s still many questions left unresolved. Additionally, most of the literature I’ve reviewed have their participants as pediatric patients, but not adults. What then happens with adults with ASD? Does their condition intensify or subside? What service(s) should we make available? We need to focus more on adults with ASD instead of limiting research (as helpful as the results and conclusions are) to merely children with ASDs.

What can we do to help further awareness about Autism?

Get rid of any preconceived notion that we may get from entertainment (eg, Rain Man or the Atypical series on Netflix). Yes, we’re awkward and disruptive. We may not know how to properly speak, but we have a voice nonetheless. Please help us understand how to effectively communicate what we need. Some of us are nonverbal, so that presents its own sets of challenges. Autism awareness is more than an autism rights issue, or even a disabilities rights issue - it’s a human issue.

To learn more, please visit www.autismspeaks.com.

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