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Jennica Zaro, PhD - USC School of Pharmacy. Los Angeles, CA, US

Jennica Zaro, PhD Jennica Zaro, PhD

Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences & Assistant Dean for Assessment of the Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Studies | USC School of Pharmacy


An expert in protein and peptide drug delivery, targeted therapies, and biologics.





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Jennica Zaro, PhD, has joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences as Associate Professor. She also serves as the Assistant Dean for Assessment of the Office of Research and Graduate Education. Previously, she was Assistant Dean, of Assessment and Scholarship and Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at West Coast University School of Pharmacy. Prior to that, she was Research Assistant Professor and a Core Director of the Translational Research and Histology Laboratories here at the USC School of Pharmacy. A PhD graduate in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the USC School of Pharmacy, she has held several roles in the pharmaceutical industry, where she has developed formulations for aerosol products and designed and validated analytical methods for protein drugs.

Dr. Zaro’s research is focused on targeted drug delivery applications utilizing protein-drug conjugates or recombinant fusion proteins, for which she has been awarded numerous grants and has published more than 30 peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters. Dr. Zaro has recently completed the AACP Academic Leadership Fellows Program, serves on the Board of Grants for the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE), and has served on several other national and international grant review panels including the National Institutes of Health and the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Recombinant Fusion Proteins

Protein Drugs


Pharmaceutical Sciences

Targeted Drug Delivery

Accomplishments (2)

“Most Innovative” Award

2017 West Coast University

Advisor of the Year Award

2017 West Coast University, School of Pharmacy

Education (2)

USC: PhD, Pharmaceutical Sciences 2005

Stockton University: BS, Chemistry 1998

Affiliations (6)

  • Member: Pharmaceutical and Translational Sciences Admissions Committee (USC) - 2020 to present
  • Board of Grants Member: American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education - 2018 to present
  • Member: American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy - 2018 to present
  • Member: Controlled Release Society - 2015 to present
  • Peer reviewed research and/or review articles in various scientific journals including, ACS Nano, Journal of Controlled Release, Molecular Pharmaceutics, Biomaterials, Biomacromolecules, Biotechnology Journal, Journal of Drug Targeting - 2008 to present
  • Member: American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists - 2001 to present

Selected Media Appearances (1)

Zaro Joins Faculty

USC School of Pharmacy  online


Jennica Zaro, PhD, has joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences as Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Selected Event Appearances (3)

Cell-Penetrating Peptides for Targeted Drug Delivery

Department of Chemistry, Pomona College  Pomona, CA


Cell Penetrating Peptides for Targeted Tumor Delivery

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, California State University  Los Angeles, California


CPP-Based Nanoconstructs for Targeted Delivery to Solid Tumors

China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing, China  Nanjing, China


Research Focus (3)

Recombinant proinsulin-transferrin fusion protein for liver-targeted insulin therapy

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – Strategic Research Agreement

2016-2018 Role: Consultant

Optimization of pH-sensitive Recombinant Peptide Nanoconstructs for Targeted Tumor Delivery

USC Ming Hsieh Institute for Engineering Medicine for Cancer

2014-2015 Role: Principal Investigator

Mildly acidic tumor microenvironment for diagnostic and therapeutic nanomedicine

NIH National Cancer Institute (1R21CA169841-01A1)

2013-2016 Role: Principal Investigator

Patents (3)

Methods for Uses of Protein Precursors as Prodrugs

US Patent 10513563

Issued 12/24/2019

Design of pH-sensitive Oligopeptide Complexes for Drug Release under Mildly Acidic Conditions

No. 61/754,448

US Provisional Appln

Single Chain Fc-Dimer-Human Growth Hormone Fusion Protein for Improved Drug Delivery

No. 62/396,019

US Provisional Appln

Selected Articles (5)

Acid-sensitive hybrid polymeric micelles containing a reversibly activatable cell-penetrating peptide for tumor-specific cytoplasm targeting

Journal of Controlled Release

2018 Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) have become a novel drug delivery system due to their distinct advantages, including high cell transmembrane potency and ability to carry cargo molecules inside cells. However, owing to their cationic charge and non-specificity characteristics, the clinical application of CPPs is limited.

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Characterization and Oral Delivery of Proinsulin-Transferrin Fusion Protein Expressed Using ExpressTec

International Journal of Molecular Sciences

2018 Proinsulin-transferrin fusion protein (ProINS-Tf) has been designed and successfully expressed from the mammalian HEK293 cells (HEK-ProINS-Tf). It was found that HEK-ProINS-Tf could be converted into an activated form in the liver. Furthermore, HEK-ProINS-Tf was demonstrated as an extra-long acting insulin analogue with liver-specific insulin action in streptozotocin (STZ)-induced type 1 diabetic mice.

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Characterization of polyelectrolyte complex formation between anionic and cationic poly (amino acids) and their potential applications in pH-dependent drug delivery


2017 Polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) are self-assembling nano-sized constructs that offer several advantages over traditional nanoparticle carriers including controllable size, biodegradability, biocompatibility, and lack of toxicity, making them particularly appealing as tools for drug delivery.

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Single chain Fc-dimer-human growth hormone fusion protein for improved drug delivery


2017 Fc fusion protein technology has been successfully used to generate long-acting forms of several protein therapeutics. In this study, a novel Fc-based drug carrier, single chain Fc-dimer (sc(Fc)2), was designed to contain two Fc domains recombinantly linked via a flexible linker.

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Proinsulin–Transferrin Fusion Protein Exhibits a Prolonged and Selective Effect on the Control of Hepatic Glucose Production in an Experimental Model of Type 1 Diabetes

Molecular Pharmaceutics

2016 An ideal basal insulin (INS) replacement therapy requires the distribution or action of exogenous INS to more closely mimic physiological INS in terms of its preferential hepatic action. In this paper, we introduce a novel strategy to exert liver-specific INS action by hepatic activation of INS’s precursor, proinsulin (ProINS).

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