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Melvin S. Munsaka

1 February 2020 2,297 views No Comment

Melvin S. Munsaka

Affiliation: Senior Director and Head of Safety Statistics at AbbVie, Inc.
Educational Background: PhD, Mathematical Statistics, Queen’s University; MSc, Mathematical Statistics, and Med, Mathematics, McGill University; BAEd (Distinction), Mathematics, University of Zambia

Melvin S. Munsaka has been in pharma for more than 20 years, working in capacities from individual contributor to strategic leader. He grew up in Zambia, attending primary school at Jembo Mission and secondary school at St. Edmunds. His father, a former teacher turned pastor, often hinted to him about medical school, but Munsaka was drawn to mathematics and science. At St. Edmunds, he spent most of his time studying, as emphasis was on academic excellence. He received a Cambridge Overseas School Certificate and pursued a major in mathematics at the University of Zambia, where he met his wife, Enes. They have two children, Tina and Jack.

Munsaka was particularly interested in abstract algebra and received encouragement from his mentor, the late Frederick Bartholomeusz, to pursue graduate studies in algebra. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, Munsaka took three elective statistics courses focusing on statistical theory, probability, and stochastic processes, but did not really think much about statistics at the time. He worked at the Central Statistics Office briefly and returned to the University of Zambia as a staff development fellow.

Munsaka received a scholarship to pursue an MEd (mathematics) at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. The program was a combination of graduate courses in mathematics and mathematics teaching methods. He eventually opted to pursue two master’s programs, an MEd in mathematics teaching and an MSc in mathematics, with a plan to focus on algebra. Around this time, Munsaka met Arak Mathai, another mentor who suggested he take graduate courses in mathematical statistics and probability theory and who convinced Munsaka to switch to a major in mathematical statistics.

During a two-year period to fulfill his contractual teaching agreement with the University of Zambia, Munsaka took several graduate courses in statistics and probability theory, analysis, algebra, and special functions at the insistence of Bartholomeusz. He was awarded a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship to complete his MSc at McGill and, under Mathai, wrote a thesis on integral equations connected to statistical distribution theory. The scholarship was extended to doctoral studies in carcinogenesis at Queen’s University under Duncan Murdoch and Agnes Herzberg, his co-supervisors and mentors.

Once finished with schooling, Munsaka was offered a job at LAB, Inc., in Montréal in 1994 and, in 1998, moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to work for STATPROBE, Inc., before heading to Chicago in 2003 to work for Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Inc. While working for Takeda, he received three of the company’s prestigious awards. In 2017, Munsaka joined AbbVie to take on his present role.

Munsaka co-leads initiatives of the DIA Bayesian Scientific Working Group Safety Subteam and the ASA Biopharmaceutical Section Safety Working Group. He is the publicity chair of the Midwest Biopharmaceutical Statistics Workshop and has been president and chapter representative of the Northern Illinois Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. He is also past chair of the ASA Section for Statistical Programmers and Analysts and a current member at-large of the ASA Biopharmaceutical Section Executive Committee. Munsaka is also a lecturer at the University of Chicago Graham School. He is a committee member of the R in Pharma conference and a member of PHUSE subteams. Munsaka is also the secretary of the board of directors of the Chicago Public Schools Science Fair, Inc. He continues to pursue research in his areas of interest and to explore ideas related to machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and computing.

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