Design and execution of the pharmaceutical research team of tomorrow

There are unprecedented opportunities for new medicines. Science has advanced rapidly, with expanded knowledge of pathological processes at the molecular level, from single gene causes to complex networks. The number of promising drug targets is expanding quickly, and elegant in vitro assay systems are able to identify lead compounds, and remarkable mouse models able to show a compelling proof of principle a new drug’s mechanism of action, safety and efficacy. 

But the more drugs are targeted, the more personalized many therapies become. With personalization, there are fewer patients to amortize costs, and costs quickly rise. The cost of prescription medicines in the United States has risen by 400 percent in four years — much, much faster than the cost of other healthcare. The current trajectory is unsustainable financially. But not taking advantage of advances in therapeutics to improve human health seems unethical as well. 

The research- and education-focused School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has been built from the ground up to address these challenges. 

The school focuses on the most important problems facing drug development and therapy delivery, while also seizing emerging opportunities in science, new business models and new regulatory models. 

The school is developing better drugs faster and cheaper, ensuring that therapies are more accessible to the broadest populations. Emerging opportunities that the school focuses on include: 

  • Approaches to de-risking of new drugs through testing in mouse avatars of human disease, robust pre-clinical studies and independent validations of key assays. De-risking leads to more efficient and less expensive drug development.
  • Development of sensitive and reliable outcome measures in both mice and humans. There are too many examples of very expensive clinical trials that failed — where there is uncertainty whether the drug failed or the methods of measuring the improvement of patients failed.
  • Use of emerging technologies to decrease costs but improve the conduct of trials, including the Microsoft Band and other mobile health devices.
  • Establishing international clinical trial networks, particularly in the post-marketing space. We may see pharmacists increasingly involved in the testing of drugs to ensure safety and efficacy long-term.

In addition to promoting robust and advanced science of drug development and testing, the school also acknowledges pressing concerns in existing drug prescription and use that desperately need to be addressed. 

  • The dramatic escalation of the use of prescription pain killers is a legal drug problem that is starting to have greater negative ramifications on American society than illegal drug use.
  • Many of the top drugs sold improve the health of only a small subset of those patients given the drugs. We need to understand and predict who will be a responder and who will not respond, both for the health of the patient and the cost savings. Inefficiencies in drug prescription and waste were calculated to cost the U.S. $4 billion last year.
  • Older members of the community are prescribed increasing numbers of drugs for chronic health conditions, but with little knowledge or monitoring of drug-drug interactions. The pharmacists of tomorrow must become "polypharmacists" — understanding combinations that are good or bad for health.

Finally, we will train the pharmacists of tomorrow who will be the healthcare givers of the future. 

Many countries allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for patients and then closely work with the patients to monitor their health. In the U.S., writing prescriptions is typically limited to medical doctors, often when they do not have the time to optimally monitor the ongoing health of a patient on a day-to-day basis. It is likely that future pharmacists will take an increasingly active role in the day-to-day health care of community members. Our School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences anticipates these changes in policy and practice, and will position its graduates to take on this heightened responsibility. 

Starting a school is exciting. It is an opportunity to start from a clean slate, designing a curriculum for tomorrow, instead of holding on to one from yesterday. The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is a pioneer in the science of drugs, while the graduate pharmacists will be pioneers in a changing healthcare landscape that must adjust to the science as well as the economics of healthcare.