Cindy Alvarado never thought she would become a lawyer. But today, she works behind the scenes as a leader in compliance for a company she truly believes in—Pacira BioSciences Inc., a major biotech company that manufactures pharmaceutical and medical device products designed to help healthcare providers offer opioid alternatives to as many patients as possible.
Alvarado’s parents came to the United States from Ecuador in 1969. They were following her mother’s family, who had previously immigrated to the US while leaving her father’s family behind in Guayaquil. Recognizing the importance of education, her father received a college degree while learning English, and her mother earned an accounting certificate. There were no lawyers in Alvarado’s family—yet.
“None of the females or Hispanics in my life were lawyers,” the attorney says. “If young people don’t see people that look like them in a certain role, they don’t realize what’s possible.”
After a brief stint as a flight attendant, Alvarado took a job as a paralegal with a New Jersey law firm. She settled into the job, working for lawyers but never considering a future as a lawyer herself until a few simple words from her boss changed her life forever. “You have the gray matter to do this,” Alvarado’s boss and mentor told her. “That was my light bulb moment,” says Alvarado.
His encouragement opened Alvarado’s eyes to previously unconsidered possibilities. She took the LSAT, applied to Fordham Law School, and soon returned to work at the same firm—this time as a junior associate specializing in bankruptcy and financial restructuring. In 2013, when bankruptcy work slowed, the firm offered Alvarado the chance to join its life sciences compliance and regulatory practice group. While she did not have experience in that sector, Alvarado knew that life sciences was an innovative and relatively new area of the law. Drawn to the idea of a position that would help her develop unique expertise in a rapidly growing industry, she accepted the role.
Soon, Alvarado was learning everything about life sciences compliance from the ground up to develop her expertise, while helping pharmaceutical and medical device companies examine risks and interpret state and federal guidelines. One client, Pacira, asked Alvarado to develop a compliance program. In doing so, she learned two things. First, she found that she enjoyed the opportunity to do a deep dive into one client’s business. Second, she realized that the Pacira mission and vision profoundly resonated with her.
In 2016, Alvarado left private practice to join the biotech company, where she now serves as executive director of compliance and compliance counsel.
Although Pacira has six hundred employees and is expanding into several global markets, the internal legal and compliance team is relatively small. The size of the group makes little difference, Alvarado says, given the drive of each and every person on the team to contribute to the company’s impact.
Together, Alvarado and her team have worked to implement a robust compliance program for Pacira’s US pharmaceutical and medical device business, a must-have in a heavily regulated industry such as biotech. Now, Alvarado and her team are implementing similar programs in Canada and the EU, where the company has planned product launches in 2021.
As executive director, Alvarado leverages her previous experience and the expertise she has developed in compliance rules and regulations to create policies and procedures that guide Pacira employees through their interactions with healthcare professionals around the world. “My job is to help Pacira achieve what it sets out to do within the bounds of the rules that govern the industry, so we can improve the lives of as many patients as possible,” she says.
The company has already made great strides toward this goal. For its main product, Pacira developed a long-acting nonopioid analgesic that healthcare professionals can inject during surgery to control patients’ pain for the first few days after a procedure—when patients often need it most. Exparel (bupivacaine liposome injectable suspension) has been used to help more than 6.5 million surgical patients to date. Pacira has prepared and submitted applications to gain regulatory approval for the pharmaceutical product in Canada and the EU, where it is not yet approved. Pacira is also preparing to launch iovera, a medical device that uses the body’s natural response to cold to temporarily block nerve signals and alleviate pain, in Canada and the EU.
Alvarado hopes the work she is doing at Pacira can help address what has become a national epidemic. Healthcare providers have been providing opioid pain relievers at increasing rates since the 1990s, she explains. In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency to address the crisis, yet even now, more than 128 Americans die from an opioid overdose each day.
Alvarado and her colleagues are working to help decrease those numbers. “The effects of the opioid epidemic are all around us, and many people that I work with have a personal story about the impact that opioid misuse, addiction, or dependence has had on their family or friends,” she notes. “The opportunity to work on something that has a real impact is powerful for me, and I know we are doing something real to combat the opioid epidemic in a meaningful way.”
That Which Is Possible
For Cindy Alvarado, the impact she can have outside of her work at Pacira is also meaningful. Alvarado has had the opportunity to work with organizations like the Hispanic Bar Association to mentor high school students through pipeline programs.
“Whether they have an interest in the law or not, the opportunity to expose Hispanic high school students to Hispanic attorneys and other professionals and emphasize the importance of going to college is one of the best things I have had the chance to do,” Alvarado asserts. “I hope I can do for them what my mentors have done for me—show them what is possible.”