Originally published Feb. 4.
By Turna Ray
Pharmacy-benefits manager and personalized medicine proponent Medco is starting a school to educate future pharmacists about genomic medicine.
Medco made a $5 million commitment this week to open a new school of pharmacy at New Jersey-based Fairleigh Dickinson University. The school, which will focus heavily on educating pharmacists about personalized medicine, is slated to open its doors in fall 2012.
"The Medco School of Pharmacy at FDU will help address the growing need for licensed pharmacists who can incorporate advances in technology into health care service delivery, [and] make changes in practice models needed to accommodate the increasing demands placed on health care services from an aging population and health care reform," FDU and Medco said in a joint statement. "In addition to addressing individual patient care needs in health care settings, professionals educated in pharmacy with specialty knowledge are increasingly sought by health care product and service industries, public and private health care payer organizations, academic institutions, and state and federal regulatory agencies."
David Snow, Medco CEO, added that Medco and FDU's relationship may also extend to research collaborations of "mutual interest."
The school will offer students the opportunity to pursue a PharmD with a master's of science degree in pharmaceutical science, an MBA, or a master's of public administration. Students can also choose to pursue only a PharmD. In the future, FDU is planning to broaden its master's degree options for pharmacy students into other specialties, such as regulatory affairs, clinical trials management, health humanities, health communications, and health and pharmacy informatics.
The curriculum for the school is still under development. However, Medco and leaders at FDU are currently envisioning a framework that will include courses on "genetics and the study of drugs and how they work based on the proteins, enzymes, and RNA associated with diseases and genes," Ruth Nemire, founding dean of the Medco School of Pharmacy, told PGx Reporter. Additionally, students will also receive a general humanities education "that will enable students to understand the person with the illness, and how that affects their response to therapy and treatment," she added.
FDU received state approval for the pharmacy school in 2009 and hired Nemire last November from Touro College of Pharmacy in New York City, where she was the associate dean. FDU has also applied for accreditation status for the Medco School of Pharmacy from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.
This appears to be the first time a PBM has sponsored a pharmacy school at a university, but the idea seems to be a natural extension of Medco's growing focus on personalized medicine.
Medco's entrance into the personalized medicine space is centered around its Genetics for Generics program, which aims to use clinically validated pharmacogenetic testing to improve outcomes for patients, guide them to lower-cost generics when appropriate, and save healthcare dollars. The PBM, which provides services to 60 million people in the US and makes a significant portion of its revenue from dispensing generic drugs, has currently enrolled in its personalized medicine program 220 clients representing more than 10 million lives (PGx Reporter 10/07/09).
When executing its personalized medicine programs, Medco is heavily dependent on its network of pharmacists to recognize when the clinical and genetic information of a beneficiary suggests that a PGx approach may be of medical benefit. Then, these pharmacists reach out to the doctor and the patient to educate them about the availability of a genetic test that may help them make better treatment decisions.
A study conducted by Medco and presented at the American Society for Human Genetics in November showed that PBM-driven personalized medicine programs have been successful at driving physician and patient adoption of PGx testing to dose the anticoagulant warfarin and to guide the cancer treatment tamoxifen to best responders (PGx Reporter 11/10/10).
At the beginning of the two-year study, Medco found that only 1.7 percent of patients received genetic testing for warfarin and 2.3 percent of those on tamoxifen received genetic testing as part of clinical care. However, Medco found that when pharmacists could educate doctors and their patients about PGx testing, they were able to convince more than 4,000 doctors to consider whether genetic testing to dose wafarin was appropriate for their patients. Through this same process, around 1,500 physicians, 63 percent of them oncologists, agreed to consider their patients for genetic testing ahead of tamoxifen treatment. There was no cost for patients or physicians for agreeing to PGx testing in the study.
As an important intermediary facilitating the conversation between patients and doctors about personalized medicine, it is very much in Medco's own interests that future pharmacists are able to recognize genomic medicine opportunities and provide the right advice to patients. "Medco recognizes from its own business and staff needs the value of pharmacy graduates with added knowledge and skills," Russell Teagarden, VP of Medco's scientific and academic affairs, told PGx Reporter.
Medco employees, many of whom currently teach at pharmacy programs at other universities and colleges, will be welcome to teach at FDU. The university plans to begin recruiting and hiring faculty this spring.
According to FDU, the aim of the pharmacy program is to equip students with skills and knowledge that will provide them with a variety of options in the job market, including the biopharma industry, PBMs or managed care facilities, health communications, community and hospital pharmacies, or healthcare payor organizations.
Offering students the chance to get a range of master's degrees, as well as a PharmD degree, will hopefully open of the range of opportunities for pharmacy students, Teagarden noted.
Given the controversy this past summer surrounding University of California – Berkeley's bid to offer freshmen the chance to learn about personalized genomics by getting their own DNA analyzed, it is currently unclear how hands-on the genomics education at FDU's new pharmacy school will be. Certainly, the legal, ethical, and societal issues raised by people having greater access to their own DNA data will be a point of discussion for students, according to Nemire (PGx Reporter 08/18/10).
"I think that it is an absolute must that the social, political, and ethical issues" of giving consumers greater access to genomics "are raised, and discussed in the curriculum," Nemire said. "Since this is a new school of pharmacy, the curriculum will be developed by faculty as they are hired, and the experts in these areas will address how students are exposed" to genetic testing.
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