Update from the Dean: Eyeing a return

Our COVID-19 response

Dear UCSF School of Pharmacy Family and Friends:

San Francisco is now in its eighth full week of shelter in place, and projections regarding COVID-19 continue to change. The most recent projections suggest the national peak in infections is still weeks away, and we might top 3,000 deaths a day. The Bay Area appears to be in better shape, again thanks to quick action from our state and local officials and our adherence to social distancing.

We’re clearly still in the early stages of what will be a long fight against this pandemic. However, if the curve continues to flatten, we’ll be returning to campus, albeit under greatly changed circumstances.

As we track the epidemiologic projections of the pandemic, we’re also looking at its projected financial impact. California state officials are now expecting a $54 billion shortfall in the state’s budget and an unemployment peak exceeding the rate during the Great Recession. At this time, we don’t know what the impact of these startling numbers will be on the University of California system.

In terms of the new normal I referred to in my last Update, we’re awaiting word from state and local officials, the state health department, and our chancellor regarding our return to campus, and, as we wait, we’re developing plans to keep our staff, faculty, and students safe as we reopen. Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, vice dean of the School, and Tejal Desai, PhD, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, briefed the School at our most recent town hall regarding the first stages of these plans for education and for research.

Any transition demands problem-solving leading to creative solutions. And we must have the flexibility and nimbleness needed to implement those solutions. From our advocacy for the pharmacy profession to our science, clinical work, and education, I’m proud to say our School exhibits these traits every single day in our response to the novel coronavirus.

Pharmacy advocacy

I have consistently pushed for an expanded role for pharmacists in our health system. The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced this point and uncovered many pre-existing faults in our health care system, particularly for the underserved. It is more clear than ever that pharmacists have a large and critical role to play in ensuring all patients receive the safest, most effective medications. Specific to COVID-19, we have the chance to fill one role—testing—right now.

On April 8, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published guidance authorizing licensed pharmacists to order and administer FDA-approved tests for COVID-19. Many states implemented the guidance, but California has not, as the San Francisco Chronicle noted in a May 2 feature.

As the COVID-19 curve flattens in California, mass testing and tracking will be critical to keeping a second wave at bay. I recently joined with UC San Diego School of Pharmacy Dean James McKerrow, PhD, MD, in contacting the UC Office of the President to voice our strong support for allowing licensed California pharmacists to serve our state in this important way.

Lisa Kroon, PharmD, chair of the Department Clinical Pharmacy, and Marilyn Stebbins, PharmD, vice chair for clinical innovation in the Department Clinical Pharmacy, are sharing with state officials both their expertise and any data needed to expand the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity through California’s existing and expansive network of pharmacists in community pharmacies. As Marilyn recently told California Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry: “We have a pharmacist in every community that could be doing this testing.”

I hope to have more news on this front soon.

Groundbreaking COVID-19 science

Our School’s COVID-19 science continues to inspire. The Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), an organized research unit that reports to me, immediately pivoted its efforts to the coronavirus as the extent of the outbreak became clear. Nevan Krogan, PhD, the director of QBI, created the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG), which brought together 41 labs to identify promising drug candidates to treat COVID-19.

Just weeks later, the group published a paper in Nature highlighting several promising pharmacological agents that target the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The paper received extensive coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times, among other outlets.

The project stands out for the breadth of the collaboration—which includes more than 120 scientists hailing from UCSF, the Gladstone Institutes, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Krogan’s group took an ingenuitive approach, focusing on existing drugs and the complex of interactions between the virus and human cells, rather than on the virus itself.

At our April 30 town hall faculty member Kathy Yang, PharmD, MPH, provided us with a glimpse of our clinical response to the pandemic. Kathy, who is an infectious diseases pharmacist, participates in numerous UCSF COVID-19 trials, including several for remdesivir. Her briefing on these trials and others is timely and worth watching.

Creative solutions in education

Despite the many adjustments required to deliver our curriculum remotely, our doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students have handled the changes, and the crisis at large, with grace and poise.

Last week I addressed members of the Class of 2020 as they celebrated their graduation together in the only way they could: with a joyous Zoom gathering. An in-person commencement ceremony will have to wait, but the party did not. The Class of 2020 had the best residency match rate in the country, an accomplishment that made the School immensely proud. The resilience, good humor, and high spirits of these new PharmDs are an inspiration, and their problem-solving skills will serve them well in their careers.

I left the class with a challenge: to fully accept and apply their unique expertise as health professionals trained and capable of ensuring patients are on the right drugs. I also implored them to make sure no one questions the essential nature of their profession.

On that note, in April I joined 13 school of pharmacy deans in signing a letter asking California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare “pharmacists and licensed intern pharmacists as essential front-line health care providers,” and I will continue to advocate for our essential roles. Now more than ever, the best way we can serve our patients and our health system is to advance our profession.

In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, our School is busier than ever, and I have much to share below.

Stay safe.

With warm regards,


B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD
Troy C. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
UCSF School of Pharmacy

School of Pharmacy news

A close relationship with UCSF Health

I’m happy to announce that Desi Kotis, PharmD, will join UCSF Health as chief pharmacy executive. As a key member of the executive leadership team, Desi will be responsible for the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan for UCSF Health and UCSF Medical Center’s Department of Pharmaceutical Services. As an assistant dean in our School, she will work closely with us to provide high-quality education in the PharmD degree program, as well as health services research opportunities. Desi’s appointment comes after a search I co-chaired with Linda Liu, MD, School of Medicine. Desi replaces Interim Chief Pharmacy Officer Michael Powell, who has been simply fantastic and will be missed. Join me in welcoming Desi.

Restarting research and keeping education on schedule

As I mentioned in my introduction, Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, vice dean of the School, recently addressed, at our May 7 town hall, the graduated return to campus of our PharmD degree program.

Emphasizing that the safety and security of our staff, students, faculty, and the larger community are paramount, Sharon shared that we expect our entering PharmD students to be in the San Francisco area for the July start of classes. All large classes will be conducted remotely to preserve social distancing, but some, including skills-based classes, will require campus meetings. These latter classes will be conducted in small groups and always with an emphasis on safety.

Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) for our PharmD students are now scheduled to start May 18 for the Class of 2021, and we fully expect no delay in the class’ graduation. Similarly, although we had to delay certain Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) for our first-year PharmD students, plans are in place to complete these later this academic year. The IPPE experiences for second year students this summer will proceed as scheduled.

Eight weeks ago, Tejal Desai, PhD, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, joined the campus research shutdown committee that temporarily halted all but essential lab work. This week she told the School at the May 7 town hall how research would restart, with major changes to how it will be conducted.

With safety the highest priority, and working with the understanding that a COVID-19 surge could result in the labs closing once again, Tejal informed the School that staffing initially will be limited to 12.5 percent, or one seat out of eight, of the normal lab capacity. Depending upon the result of this pilot, the plan is for lab staffing to eventually double to 25 percent. Optimizing the success of this transition may require staggering schedules and the creative use of space. Face coverings will be required, as will virtual group meetings, and the regular disinfection of high-touch areas. Screening of laboratory personnel will take place at the entrance to buildings.

These plans will require tenacity and flexibility from all of us.

Tracking our COVID-19 work

The School has published a list of our work on COVID-19. Our faculty members are working on projects to provision front-line health care teams, improve and create rapid testing for infection and immunity, evaluate clinical treatments in patients, and discover better therapies. This list will be a living document, and we’ll update it as projects progress and new ones are added. I’ll continue to highlight specific COVID-19 projects in future Updates.

An advocate for health equality

Kathleen B. Kennedy, PharmD '78, dean of the College of Pharmacy at Xavier University of Louisiana, has long been a passionate advocate for the underserved. Not surprisingly, Kathleen was named recently by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards to a Health Equity Task Force convened to address the alarming statistics on health inequality associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the present time, 60 percent of Louisiana COVID-19 deaths have been among African Americans.

An award for science

Akinyemi Oni-Orisan, PharmD, PhD, received the Darrell Abernethy Early Stage Investigator Award from the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Akinyemi focuses on cholesterol-lowering statins, using big data to determine if genetics or other factors predict who will respond well to the drugs, and who won’t. In recent weeks his research has included the investigation of adverse cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19 therapies.

COVID-19 references

  • Refer to UCSF COVID-19 for details on how UC San Francisco is responding to the pandemic and anticipating needs.
  • Read how you can help during COVID-19.
  • Sign up to receive UCSF COVID-19 alerts by text message: Text 333 111 and enter UCSF.
  • Refer to UCSF School of Pharmacy COVID-19 for School-specific updates for faculty, students, and staff, and updates on the PharmD degree program.
  • Watch recordings of the School of Pharmacy town halls.


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, 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.