Drexel University College of Medicine recently launched a Master of Science degree program in drug discovery and development to inform students about the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries, as announced in a CoM press release Sept. 9.
The program, which is being offered through the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, encourages students to pursue a career in a biotechnology firm, pharmaceutical company or academic research laboratory. Program co-director James Barrett said he expects 10 to 15 students to take the upcoming class.
“I spent 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry between academic appointments, and one of the pressing issues in students that I would be met with was a burning desire to learn what it’s like to be in the industry,” he said.
The class, composed of master’s-level students coming out of the undergraduate programs and professionals with master’s and Ph.D degrees, will work to identify compounds that have the potential to fight certain diseases. Students will also test compounds to ensure the United States Food and Drug Administration will approve them.
Barrett, a chairman and professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology, started the program after leaving the pharmaceutical industry. He put a proposed course together and looked to universities within the Philadelphia area to house it, choosing Drexel for its perfect blend of “entrepreneurship and open-mindedness.”
One of Barrett’s first hires was Janet Clark, who had previously worked at the Merck pharmaceutical company for around 11 years. With Barrett, she essentially continued the one drug discovery and development course and elaborated it into a degree-granting program.
“It opened my eyes to come here and sit down with the graduate students,” Clark said. “For almost three hours, students peppered us with questions on what it’s like in the industry. It became clear to us that there is a desire to know what’s out there beyond an academic career,” Clark, the associate professor of the course, stated.
The program is designed to be comprehensive in scope, with students learning from a variety of different professionals.
“We’ve had CEOs of companies come in to lecture — we’ve had senior vice presidents of research and development. We’ve had people who have personally been associated with the development of a drug come in and give a case study,” Barrett explained.
“I think the students appreciate the diversity of the lectures,” he continued. “It’s neither Dr. Clark nor myself standing in front of them week after week.”
Barrett credited Donna DeCarolis, the associate dean of strategic initiatives and department head at the LeBow College of Business, as one of the first professors to support the concept.
The program is set to include courses in pharmacogenomics, the study of genetic variation in patients’ drug responses, and biostatistics, as well as business courses such as entrepreneurship.
“I think [Clark and I] want to see a cross-campus interdisciplinary approach to something that is truly interdisciplinary,” Barrett explained.
“Students who take the course will become exposed to the diversity of the industry. It’s science-driven for the most part, but it’s also a business, and understanding how [they fit together] is something that a lot of people don’t really appreciate,” he said.
Though The Drug Discovery and Development Program is still new, Barrett says he is always looking toward the future. He is considering enacting short “boot camp courses” for people in the industry that want to get ahead.
Clark also discussed the possibility of internships for future students, saying, “We intend to include an internship, which would make the program a little more unique from other efforts. We will generate a list of companies, laboratories and other places that are willing to train interns.”
He continued, saying, “The exposure won’t necessarily be in the lab. Rather it could be in any of the aspects of the drug discovery and development process.”
According to the College of Medicine website, students will have the opportunity to interact with the college’s own expert faculty, as well as faculty from the LeBow College of Business and the School of Public Health, among other colleges.
Applications for the program are currently being accepted. For more information, visit the Drug Discovery and Development page at drexelmed.edu.