New Master of Science Program Addresses Multidisciplinary Process of Drug Discovery


Future leaders in the discovery and development of novel drugs must be able to integrate information from several different scientific disciplines in order to apply new technologies. The nature and process of drug discovery is being transformed by the technologies that are now available in the postgenomics era.

From the selection of targets to the understanding of toxicology and subpopulations of patients, the modern scientist must appreciate the ramifications of genomic information. Many in the drug development industry feel that the next wave of drugs will be first-in-class compounds based on an integrated understanding of multiple scientific disciplines.

In order to properly apply all of the new methods and to participate fully in current drug discovery teams it is imperative that scientists have a complete understanding of how the disciplines involved function collectively. It is no longer sufficient to understand just one's own scientific specialty, but rather one must see how each discipline impacts the others during the drug discovery process and how new technologies can be incorporated into each step. In order to survive economically into the future, the drug discovery and development industry must reduce the current high attrition rate of drug candidates. Many believe that those scientists with the broadest understanding of the complete drug discovery process will take us over the hurdles that contribute to these high rates.

For example, a more thorough understanding of ADME/Tox properties, particularly pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, is crucial to preventing some of the costly errors that have occurred in bringing new drugs to market. ADME/Tox properties are:

  • Absorption of drugs into the body,

  • Distribution of drugs into tissues and cell compartments,

  • Metabolism of drugs by patient populations and subpopulations,

  • Excretion of metabolites and clearance rates, and

  • Toxicological effects of drugs and drug interactions.

Early testing and comprehension of these properties in drug candidates is considered by many to be the key to enhance early attrition of compounds and therapeutic interventions that do not have the appropriate ADME/Tox profile for clinical use.

A multidisciplinary program for the postgenomics era

The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS, pictured above) is leveraging its expertise in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics to offer a Master of Science degree in Drug Discovery and Development. Begun in the fall of 2003, this program educates working professionals to develop the tools they need to advance their career. This program provides a multidisciplinary education that teaches students the cross-functional thinking required to find, discover, and develop better and safer drugs in the postgenomics era.

Students learn to understand the complete drug discovery and development process and how to apply that understanding to everyday work experiences to be competitive in today's marketplace. Through the multidisciplinary nature of this program, students learn to create insightful and inventive solutions to common problems. They are also able to communicate clearly and effectively across the boundaries between the disciplines by virtue of participating with their classmates in an interactive learning environment.

The program is geared toward those interested in positions of increased responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry, either in the laboratory setting or in administrative or business functions. Graduates of this program will be qualified to lead independent work projects investigating new methods in their areas of expertise. They will serve as laboratory and shift supervisors, contribute to business development and marketing efforts, and help their teams build strategic direction for ongoing projects and new directions for their companies in unmet medical needs.

The program includes coursework in areas that have been identified as important for career advancement in the pharmaceutical industry. These areas encompass both scientific knowledge and workplace skills. Scientific courses include target identification and validation, assay development and high-throughput screening methods, chemical synthesis and drug design, selection of lead compounds, development of drug candidates, conduct of clinical trials, and regulatory affairs related to bringing a drug to market. Courses also include scientific comprehension of new and emerging technologies, methods of scientific presentation, and thesis preparation. Additional coursework covers advanced statistics and organizational management.

Candidates for this program should possess at a minimum a bachelor's degree in a scientific discipline and may currently be employed in the pharmaceutical industry, in academic or hospital laboratories, or in some area related to the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry.

Faculty combines academics and industry practitioners This part-time evening master's program is designed to accommodate the working professional. Classes are held one evening a week per course, with a total of 10 three-credit courses needed to complete the program. It is recommended that students take a course load of two courses per semester (i.e., two evenings per week) and complete the program in five semesters.

Courses in the program are taught by graduate and adjunct faculties who themselves have a myriad of expertise in all components of drug discovery and development. The graduate faculty have a deep understanding of the various relevant forms of chemistry, pharmaceutics, and pharmacology. Faculty at MCPHS have a long history of research and education in pharmacology, particularly pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Many leaders in the drug discovery industry consider these areas to be some of the least understood and most important topics in reducing the current attrition rates and high cost of drug development.

The teaching capabilities of MCPHS faculty in these areas are complemented by adjunct faculty and guest speakers in specialty areas of drug discovery and development. These adjunct faculty and guest speakers are recognized experts in their field drawn from local industry and chosen for their ability to effectively educate others in their specialty. Their expertise includes current methods in state-of-the-art technologies.

The Master of Science Program in Drug Discovery and Development is the college's most recent addition. The college's location is near the pharmaceutical industries in Boston and Cambridge, as well as leading medical centers and educational and research institutions. For more information about the program, see MCPHS's Web site or e-mail

Next Wave thanks Chris Sampson of MCPHS for his help in the preparation of this article.

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