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Carla Canuso: “Keep up with a healthy routine”

It’s important to focus on the positive, so I will share what I am grateful for right now during the pandemic: Scientists and public health experts working on therapeutics and vaccines The silver lining of spending time with family enjoying simple pleasures Modern technology to connect with friends and family, stream movies, shop online, and communicate […]

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It’s important to focus on the positive, so I will share what I am grateful for right now during the pandemic:

Scientists and public health experts working on therapeutics and vaccines

The silver lining of spending time with family enjoying simple pleasures

Modern technology to connect with friends and family, stream movies, shop online, and communicate with the rest of the world


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Carla Canuso.

As Vice President & Compound Development Team Leader at Janssen Research & Development, Carla Canuso, M.D. leads a cross-functional team that oversees the clinical development and the global regulatory and commercial strategies for products that treat different types of major depressive disorder.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Psychiatry has been my passion for as long as I can remember. As a psychiatric nurse, I loved being at the bedside and working directly with patients living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. I was also fascinated by the biological basis behind these diseases and recognized that there was a critical need for more research in order to support these patients. That realization led me to medical school, which led to a psychiatry residency and a fellowship in schizophrenia research, before joining the faculty at Harvard Medical School. When I decided to make the leap to the biopharmaceutical industry, it was in the hopes that I would be able to fulfill my lifelong passion — to bring new medications to patients who are suffering from serious mental illnesses. After nearly two decades at Janssen, I can say I’ve been able to do just that, alongside some of the brightest researchers in the field.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at Janssen?

Janssen’s spirit of innovation paved the way for some of my most fulfilling work: developing programs for two novel indications for schizoaffective disorder and major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation and behavior. It is rewarding to address the needs of unique and under-studied patient populations, and to partner with regulators and establish new development pathways and novel clinical outcome measures.

What exciting new projects are you working on and how do you think they will help people?

My day-to-day work focuses on finding treatments for patients suffering from depression. I currently oversee the development strategy for products used to treat different types of major depressive disorder, including treatment-resistant depression (TRD), a condition which is estimated to affect one-third of U.S. adults with major depressive disorder. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the condition most frequently associated with suicide. Believe it or not, most clinical trials in depression exclude suicidal patients. My team was the first to actively study this patient population, and in August (2020), received the FDA’s approval of a new indication for a product based on these clinical studies.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I come from a family of strong women who valued education. In fact, my great aunt became a pharmacist in the 1920’s. As a child, my sisters and I would visit her and play “pharmacy,” filling empty capsules with salt and pepper and grinding spices with a mortar and pestle. After going to medical school and becoming a psychiatrist, Dr. Alan Green, my boss and mentor at Harvard, suggested I consider a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I am extremely grateful for his suggestion, as this is not a career path typically presented as an option during training. Joining industry has allowed me to continue my work as a clinical researcher, build global teams with common goals, and collaborate with experts throughout the world.

Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic and what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I am no longer travelling for business or scientific meetings. From my family’s perspective, this is a positive change. However, like many people, I have had to adapt to working from home 100% of the time. The days and evenings, and the work week and weekends, can easily bleed into each other. I’ve made a conscious effort to establish a new balanced routine and make sure that I spend time with family. My husband and I are taking a lot of walks!

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic and what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Because I lead a global team, I am accustomed to working via tele- and videoconferencing. In some ways, the pandemic has not created too much disruption in our day-to-day work. Of course, I miss seeing and socializing with my colleagues, so we try to schedule a few meetings per month where we can chat informally and catch up.

As a psychiatrist I am always tuned into the mental health conversation, and I am concerned about the toll the pandemic may have on people’s mental health. What I have noticed is that the mental health impact of the pandemic has been a hot topic among the media. I hope mental health continues to be a focal point, both in the pharmaceutical world and mainstream media, so we can continue working to reduce stigma associated with mental health issues.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

It can be challenging to maintain both productivity and balance while working from home, but what works for some may not work for all. I find it’s best to keep up with as much of your “normal” routine as possible — waking up at the same time you did when you went into the office, working out or enjoying your coffee in the morning, getting dressed. It’s also important to stay in charge of your schedule. It’s okay to take advantage of flexible work hours, given your or your colleagues’ unique situations, but make sure you are not “on” all the time. We all need to focus time for ourselves and our families. And don’t forget to stay connected with colleagues on matters outside of work, too. Socialization is important for our mental wellbeing.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

  • Keep up with a healthy routine. Our daily activities, including sleep, good nutrition, and exercise habits, affect our brain as much as our bodies and can help manage our mood and emotions.
  • Look for the positive things that are all around us — find ways to appreciate and celebrate them.
  • Probably most important of all, give yourself a break. I believe the pandemic has made us all be a little more empathetic towards others’ situations; show yourself that same consideration.

From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

For me, it’s important to focus on the positive, so I will share what I am grateful for right now during the pandemic:

  1. Doctors, nurses, teachers and all the frontline and essential workers
  2. Scientists and public health experts working on therapeutics and vaccines
  3. The silver lining of spending time with family enjoying simple pleasures
  4. The opportunity to tackle some home projects
  5. Modern technology to connect with friends and family, stream movies, shop online, and communicate with the rest of the world

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious?

It’s important to remember that feeling anxious and emotional is expected during these unprecedented times. There are many ways to manage stress reactions, including simple breathing techniques, brief positive meditation, or getting outside for some sunshine and fresh air. We should also make it a priority to stay in touch with each other, but without letting the pandemic monopolize our conversations. Share stories, ask questions about other things that happened throughout the day, and look for reasons to laugh. I also encourage my loved ones to focus on the things that we can control, rather than getting caught up in fears of the unknown.


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