UCSF team takes first place in national pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) competition

A UCSF School of Pharmacy team of doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students took 1st place at the Annual National Student Pharmacist Pharmacy & Therapeutics (P&T) Competition, competing against a nationwide field of teams from 68 other pharmacy schools.

The winning team of Ryan Thaliffdeen, Monica Vuong, Dat Le, and Jimmy Nguyen, all third-year students in the School’s PharmD degree program, is the fifth team from the School to earn top honors over the competition’s 20-year history. The annual competition is hosted by the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) and gives students the opportunity to make a case for or against a particular drug’s inclusion on a health entity’s formulary, or provided drug list.

“Competing requires an intense amount of teamwork,” said Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD, a faculty member in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy. Stebbins is the faculty adviser for the UCSF student chapter of AMCP and the organizer of UCSF’s university-wide P&T competition. “You've got to demonstrate good writing skills, good organizational skills, and good verbal skills.”

The P&T competition is a chance for students to gain early experience in managed care pharmacy, a field that sits at the nexus of science, patient care, and industry. As members of P&T committees at hospitals and insurance companies, managed care pharmacists determine the safest, most effective, and most cost-effective drugs worthy of coverage or provision from health care entities.

To acquaint themselves with the field, PharmD students at UCSF may take an elective to learn how to evaluate clinical trial studies and how to look at economic models, all in preparation for entering the P&T competition.

Even entering the competition is an exhausting endeavor. Preparation for the competition begins in earnest in November, when AMCP releases the name of a drug, as well as the details and budget of a health entity deciding whether to include that drug in its formulary.

This year, the drug chosen was an asthma biologic, called Dupixent® (dupilumab). The students grappled with a crowded marketplace for asthma drugs as well as the high cost of biologic drugs, which must be produced by living organisms or components of living organisms.

“Students have to do it all on their own time,” said Stebbins. “So they spend their holiday break preparing.”

For the winning team, scheduling the work on top of the ongoing PharmD curriculum, and ensuring accountability for each team member, was key. So was meeting regularly and often.

“We outlined everything that we wanted to do by week, accounting for when we knew we needed to commit more time to school,” said Vuong. “In our meetings, we would actually teach each other. We didn't want to have just one person know their part. We were very vigilant about making sure that every single person knew every single thing about the drug.”

“One of our main goals was to make this competition a learning experience, and to understand the ‘why’ behind everything we did,” said Nguyen. “Winning was just a byproduct of doing the right things every day leading up to the competition.”

By January, the group had written and polished a 36-page monograph, a written document covering all relevant information about the drug’s indications, effectiveness, safety, costs, and competitiveness with comparable drugs.

Thaliffdeen, who is the immediate past president of the UCSF chapter of AMCP, was the only team member who had previously competed, back in his first year of pharmacy school, and was able to give his teammates insight into the scope of the competition.

Having assessed all the available data, the group decided to recommend inclusion of the new asthma drug as part of a million-member health plan, with a budget of around $2.7 billion, explained Le.

“We realized, even though the drug doesn’t improve on standard treatments for asthma, it still works,” said Le. “And it gives an alternative option for patients that might be refractory to other treatment options.”

Participating in the competition gives students a taste of the varied careers available to them once they’ve earned their PharmD degrees. For Le and Vuong, working on P&T committees and vetting drugs for inclusion on formularies is now an enticing path. “This competition has changed my professional trajectory,” said Vuong.

And as much as she was impressed to see yet another of the School’s teams come out on top at the national P&T competition, Stebbins was floored by the record interest in the managed care elective as well as the competition among the School’s PharmD students. Nearly 100 UCSF students ended up competing in the local P&T competition—double what Stebbins normally sees for the extracurricular activity.

“It's really amazing that we have the number of students who actually participate and put that effort into it to learn these skills,” said Stebbins. “All students should be commended, in addition to our winning team.”


School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.