Dr. Christian Fernandez is an Assistant Professor at Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a member of the Center for Pharmacogenetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, and he completed his potdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Mary Relling at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The research in the laboratory of Dr. Fernandez focuses on the pharmacogenomics of adverse drug reactions. The immunogenicity of protein-based therapeutics is a major problem that can lead to life-threatening complications and reduce or eliminate the therapeutic effects of biologics. The objectives of Dr. Fernandez’s research are to elucidate the mechanism of adverse drug reaction by identifying polymorphisms (variations) in genes that can explain why certain patients are predisposed to developing immune responses to biologics, to identify therapeutic strategies that can block and maintain therapeutic drug concentrations, and to develop clinical laboratory tests that can monitor drug bioavailability and immunogenicity to indicate when a drug substitution is appropriate.
Dr. Fernandez has extensively studied the immune response to the chemotherapeutic agent, asparaginase, which is an essential component of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) therapy. Up to 70% of children have been reported to develop anti-asparaginase antibodies during treatment, and the immune response to asparaginase has been linked to a higher risk of relapse. The research in the Fernandez lab aims to identify therapeutic strategies to mitigate the response and extend asparaginase exposure after a reaction in order to improve the risk of relapse among these patients. His research has led to the development of a high throughput assay for the therapeutic drug monitoring of asparaginase serum concentrations, the development of a murine model of asparaginase allergy for identifying strategies to restore asparaginase drug exposure after an immune response, and his pharmacogenomics studies have linked the NFAT pathway with the risk of developing asparaginase-induced allergies, which he is currently investigating as a possible drug target to attenuate the immune response to protein-based therapeutics.
Along with other collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh he is currently developing a novel method for monitoring the immunogenicity of biologics used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, such as adalimumab, etanercept, and infliximab. The aims of this research are to determine whether anti-TNFi biologic antibody levels correlate with plasma drug concentrations and efficacy, to identify genetic variants that may predispose patients to the development of anti-TNFi biologic antibodies, and to elucidate how various TNFi biologics should be used in the clinic after the development of anti-drug antibodies to improve efficacy and avoid the use of TNFi biologics with no therapeutic benefit.