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Drake University Wins $60K Grant from Iowa Regents Board to Build PGx Training, Research Lab

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With a $60,000 grant from the Iowa Board of Regents, Drake University will build a pharmacogenomics laboratory that will train its students in the discipline, and could potentially attract research and product-development collaborations with industry partners.

"We envision the Pharmacogenomics Training and Research Laboratory to be a training [and] teaching facility first and foremost," Pramod Mahajan, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Drake University and the recipient of the grant, told Pharmacogenomics Reporter last week.

"Nonetheless, as the research projects continue to produce data, there is a real possibility of generating intellectual property, and its eventual translation into product development can be easily visualized," Mahajan added.

Citing a recently published US Food and Drug Administration study showing that 8.8 million out of nearly 33 million prescriptions filled in 2006 in the US contained genomic biomarker information in labeling, Mahajan said "educating tomorrow's healthcare providers" in pharmacogenomics is a "critical national need."

According to Mahajan, building a PGx lab is a natural next step for Drake, if the institution wishes to remain up-to-date with advances in the health sciences.

Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Drake already offers a PharmD degree, houses a College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and offers undergraduate degrees in traditional liberal arts subjects such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology. The school also offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in clinical and applied science, healthcare management, and pharmaceutical sciences.

Although the PGx lab will not be built until August 2010, there is already interest among students in studying PGx topics.

"For the first time [this spring semester], we are offering an elective course on pharmacogenomics to our students and the interest is evident from the registration," Mahajan said. "All 15 slots for PharmaD students are full."

According to Mahajan, the career interests of students enrolling in Drake's PGx courses vary from doing clinical research, to working in community pharmacies, to pursing a career in drug development and research.

"Initially, we are trying to mold the laboratory and theory courses to accommodate the existing majors. As we grow and establish the laboratory, we hope to expand the degree options," he noted.

The university's DeltaRx Institute, a group focused on advancing concepts of entrepreneurship in pharmacy, is working with the Iowa Pharmacists' Association to also potentially use the PGx lab to provide continuing education to local health-care professionals.

As the PGx lab is launched and enrollment in its programs grows, Drake expects to hire additional managerial and maintenance staff. "We expect the facility will serve as an effective recruitment and retention tool … both for the students as well as the faculty," Mahajan said. "Thus, the facility is expected to have a significant economic impact on the [locality], as well."

Although the lab will primarily focus on training students in the concepts of pharmacogenomics, the facility could also attract opportunities for conducting research, garnering research funding, and developing products.

"There are opportunities to conduct independent and collaborative research using the facilities here," Mahajan noted, adding that the university is open to collaborative research with pharmaceutical companies "on very specific, targeted questions that the companies would feel comfortable … sharing with us.

"Such research projects will also serve as excellent vehicles for training our students while generating interesting data and intellectual property," he said.

The FDA has indicated that pharmacogenomics-guided medicine is a priority at the agency, and has issued guidances and white papers on related topics. The agency has also asked drug makers to update the labels of several therapeutics to include gene-risk data and has launched a consortium focused on validating genes that predict patients' predisposition to serious adverse drug events. The FDA also conducts a voluntary genomic target evaluation program for drug makers.

However, as the number of marketed genetic tests increases, industry observers have noted a dearth of clinical researchers, doctors, and pharmacists with pharmacogenomics knowledge. Indeed, approximately 10 percent of US universities offer a standalone course in pharmacogenomics, according to Hongbing Wang, an assistant professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Maryland, an institution that is expanding its facilities in order to increase focus on translational research, including PGx [see PGx Reporter 04-23-08].

Drake University's Pharmacogenomics Training and Research Laboratory is among a handful of academic institutions in the US that offer pharmacogenomics courses or have a laboratory dedicated to pharmacogenomics research.

George Washington University, offers a PGx-focused program for prospective pharmacists, while Baylor College of Medicine plans to offer a genomic residency program out of its personalized medicine hospital, currently under construction [see PGx Reporter 03-07-2007; 11-05-2008].

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