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Innovative University of Cincinnati Program Trains Next Generation of Pharmaceutical Professionals
Date:2/22/2010

CINCINNATI, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- In 2008, global pharmaceutical sales topped $773 billion(1), according to IMS Health, the world's leading provider of market intelligence to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. While 2009 statistics are still rolling in, IMS predicts global pharmaceutical sales will grow 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2009, possibly surpassing $820 billion(2).

With pharmaceutical products ranking among the top three most profitable industries in the U.S. (according to the Fortune 500(3)), the need for qualified candidates with cross-disciplinary training in all aspects of drug development is no longer a "wishful thinking" scenario, but a necessity.

"There has been a surge in global drug discovery and development efforts, a fact that is supported by the uptick in global pharmaceutical sales," says Pankaj Desai, PhD, a faculty member of the University of Cincinnati James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.  "The drug industry needs visionary people who are able to speak the same language across the globe and see the big picture."

According to Desai, few professionals have a formal education in all of the diverse activities needed to take a therapeutic solution from concept to patient bedside. Most of the pharmaceutical industry's research, testing, marketing and sales professionals are trained in the silo in which their job function exists. But in today's global economy, it is important for project leaders to comprehend the multidisciplinary nature of drug development.  

That's why, five years ago, the University of Cincinnati introduced a master's degree program through its Winkle College of Pharmacy. The university's master of science in pharmaceutical sciences with specialization in drug development offers a unique collaboration of academia, industry and government. The program is designed to give students a 30,000 foot view of the drug industry as a whole, filling the need for cross-disciplinary training in scientific and regulatory aspects of drug development.  

Though still considered relatively young, the drug development program has been met with critical acclaim from well-respected experts in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. William Sietsema, Vice President of U.S. Regulatory Consulting & Submissions for Kendle International – one of the world's leading clinical research organizations – says the program improves his company's talent base and helps Kendle associates progress in their careers.

"The drug development program at UC provides exactly the sort of cross-disciplinary training that is needed in our industry.  Graduates of the program are attractive to the pharmaceutical industry because of their broad understanding of the development process and strategies for speeding new products to market.  Until this program was developed, these were not skills that could be learned in a classroom, they could only be attained through on-the-job experience," said Sietsema, who is also an adjunct professor at the Winkle College of Pharmacy.

The program's unique curriculum is what separates the UC program from others. It was developed with close collaborations between Desai – who now serves as director of the program – UC's Academic Health Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, regional pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations.

"The curriculum covers all aspects of drug development, from synthesizing compounds and clinical trials, to medical devices, to market launch and regulatory compliance," he says. "Each course is designed to introduce students to one specific aspect of drug development. To my knowledge, there is no other academic program that provides the same depth and breadth of information that this master's program does."

Faculty members include recognized industry experts from companies such as Procter & Gamble, Kendle International and Meridian Biosciences, as well as professors from the Winkle College of Pharmacy and College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

"Having faculty with backgrounds in academia, industry, government and several different disciplines, allows students to hear a variety of perspectives on the drug development process," says Dr. Kevin Skare, a former senior director of clinical research for Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals who now serves as a faculty member of the drug development program.  "This expands their horizons and stimulates diverse thinking on various issues and can lead to increased creativity and product innovation."  

In addition to the classroom curriculum, the program offers twice-quarterly seminars that cover specialized topics from guest lecturers in very narrow fields. Representatives of Eli Lilly and Company, Ethicon, Glaxo Smith Kline, Pharmaceutical Product Development, Inc.,  Merck, Glinrex GmbH, Novartis and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have each presented lectures on topics related to the pharmaceutical industry.  International speakers from countries such as the Federal Republic of Germany, United Kingdom and India have also participated in the seminar series.

Students are also required to give a seminar in the first summer, based on their areas of expertise or interest. Because students have a variety of academic degrees – from bachelor degrees and MBAs to PhDs – the student-presented seminars demonstrate the diversity of each student's interests.  

The program concludes with a detailed capstone project that students work on for the entirety of their second year. Students are encouraged to choose a topic of their interest, based on the direction they'd like their career to take. Examples have included lessons learned from costly drug failures such as Vioxx, the impact of genomics on clinical trials/drug development and the benefits and pitfalls of global clinical trials.

To date, 36 students have successfully completed the entire program, while 20 students are currently enrolled. Each gives a glowing review of the drug development program.

Take Brenna Carey, PhD, who works full time at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in pulmonary biology and neonatology. "Because of this program, I see myself transitioning from a basic scientist to more of a translational scientist," says Carey. "The program has also given me a better understanding of the drug development process and government regulations."

Desai hopes to expand enrollment with the launch of a distance learning curriculum in the fall of 2010. The expansion would enable people from throughout the world to enroll in the master's program. Though the program was started with seed money from Kendle International, demand has quickly exceeded the university's available resources.

"Unfortunately, adding a distance learning complement requires funding," he said. "We're currently in the process of identifying pharmaceutical and research companies that may be willing to underwrite the cost of expanding the program, given the potential impact a master's program like this one could have on the industry. The University of Cincinnati Foundation has been a great resource in helping us identify potential sources, but there is still work to be done."

Desai said the popularity of the program will only continue to increase as professionals seek opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competition and big pharmaceutical companies look to operating more efficiently on a global scale.

"There is a significant need for this program, especially as drug companies face more pressure to do their work effectively and speak a global language," says Desai.

About the University of Cincinnati

Ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top 20 public research universities in the United States, UC's faculty have distinguished themselves worldwide for their creative teaching and research. The University of Cincinnati serves a diverse enrollment of more than 39,000.

About the University of Cincinnati Foundation

The University of Cincinnati Foundation is leading Proudly Cincinnati: Tower of Strength, Rock of Truth, the University's most ambitious campaign in history, supporting the vision for UC to become the finest urban research university in the United States. Proudly Cincinnati's goal is to raise $1 billion by 2013. To date, $638 million has been raised for scholarships, innovative teaching and groundbreaking research. For more information about the Proudly Cincinnati campaign, visit www.proudlycincinnati.org.

(1)  http://bit.ly/59J0c2

(2)  http://bit.ly/8BxDie

(3)  http://bit.ly/4DtApB

SOURCE University of Cincinnati Foundation

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