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Update from the Dean: Recovery and resilience after a pandemic year
By B. Joseph Guglielmo / Thu Mar 11, 2021
Dear UCSF School of Pharmacy family and friends:
Almost exactly a year ago, a shelter-in-place order was announced for several California counties, including San Francisco, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This order did not come as a surprise—our medical centers and educational units had been anxiously following the news and preparing for the inevitable. However, March allows us to pause, think about those we’ve lost, and reflect upon these unprecedented times.
As of today, U.S. deaths due to the novel coronavirus exceed 525,000, an unfathomable number in March of 2020. This year, however, has revealed reasons for hope. Case numbers, while still high, are dropping, and the vaccine rollout is picking up speed.
It is not a time for complacency. The virus is still spreading in our communities, and the impact of viral variants is unknown, including the potential need to update our currently available vaccines.
Although it’s been a year for the history books, I am enormously proud of the strength and flexibility that UCSF and particularly our School have displayed in continuing our educational and research missions and in serving public health.
With warm regards,
B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD
Troy C. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
UCSF School of Pharmacy
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On December 16, a mere five days after earning FDA approval, UCSF administered its first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) student Matthew Aludino, Class of 2021, was one of dozens of students who volunteered to help with the rollout. Matthew delivered the first shot in front of the press and Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MMBS.
Reinforcing the essential nature of our profession, pharmacists like UCSF Health Chief Pharmacy Executive Desi Kotis, PharmD, and Department of Clinical Pharmacy Chair Lisa Kroon, PharmD, organized the logistics of the mass vaccination program. Their efforts included logistics like storage and transportation but also covered security, medical ethics and the determination of vaccination order. Their work was a testament to our profession’s capabilities when pharmacists work at the top of their license.
Our work is far from over. To inform the public regarding vaccine information and combat misinformation, our faculty and PharmD students have developed a video series to answer vaccine questions frankly and concisely. The project will expand as new questions arise.
While our clinical response is one way we serve public health, another mechanism is our first class research. In 2020, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, we were once again the number one pharmacy school in the nation for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is the 41st consecutive year we’ve topped the list. Remarkably, our NIH funding increased to nearly $41 million, an increase of $15 million from the previous year.
Many organizations parse grant numbers, including NIH Reporter, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), and Blue Ridge. Blue Ridge collates NIH grants in which faculty serve as primary investigator (PI) over the course of the calendar year. In contrast, AACP includes all extramural grants, contracts, and co-PI related grants. However you slice the data, our School is the top research pharmacy school in the country, and by a very large margin.
Substantial credit for our funding success was due to the efforts of the School’s organized research unit (ORU), the UCSF Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI). QBI and its director, Nevan Krogan, PhD, were awarded over $13 million in NIH funds in 2020. Taking advantage of their knack for inspiring collaborations, Nevan and his colleagues created the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG). QCRG made headlines for its research associated with COVID-19, most recently regarding a cancer drug that shows promise for treating the novel coronavirus.
An update on remote learning and upcoming return to class
Our priority has always been safely getting students back to campus as soon as possible. Over the past year, our in-person educational efforts have been isolated to clinical skills training. University of California President Michael Drake, MD, announced a return to in-person classes by fall 2021, and we are ready, safety permitting, to expand our in-person educational efforts starting this August.
That said, a full return to normal will not take place just yet. To allow for social distancing and time for sterilization of surfaces and equipment, we will only be allowed to have one class year (e.g., only the Class of 2023 or Class of 2024) on campus at a time. These decisions are driven by the current rate of infection, not by the rate of vaccinations for faculty, staff, and students. However, there is further good news on that front. All students who were eligible and elected to receive the vaccine have received it.
While these plans will change based upon the course and want of the pandemic, we are cautiously optimistic that our classrooms will be back to normal sooner than we once expected.
Our students continue to be tremendously adaptable and patient as we work and study from a distance. At the end of December, we held the formal commencement for the PharmD Class of 2020. Originally scheduled to occur in April, the event was delayed with the hope that it could happen in person before the end of the year. However, it was not meant to be. Instead, the class made the decision to celebrate virtually, displaying the same optimism and flexibility that has guided them through this year, a sure sign of the positive impact they will have on the profession. Congratulations, Class of 2020.
This May, we will graduate not one but two classes. Students from our last four-year-curriculum class as well as the first class under the three-year, year-round curriculum will complete their PharmD degrees at the same time. The ceremony for the four-year students will occur May 15, while the ceremony for the three-year students will occur May 21.
Sharing a personal challenge to make an impact
One of the many aspects unique to our UCSF PharmD education is our status as an elite research institution. Another is our empathy for patients and our recognized real-world problem-solving. All these threads come together in an inspiring profile of Matthew Jacobson, PhD, in the latest issue of UCSF Magazine.
Matt combines his vast scientific knowledge with his experience as a Parkinson’s disease patient to give pharmacy students a first-hand account of how pharmaceutical advances have improved his life.
If you need any further proof that our education mission hasn’t been slowed by the pandemic, look to the continued accolades earned by our PharmD students.
Cornelia Lin and Winny Chang, both Class of 2022, are completing an Albert Schweitzer fellowship, in which they are improving health literacy and overcoming language barriers in the elderly, non-English-speaking Chinese immigrant population.
Last fall, Leanne Liu and Darra Drucker, both Class of 2022, earned first place for the Division II National Skills Competition at the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPhA) National Convention, a very impressive win.
Honoring a commitment to students and to UCSF history
No one has had more of an impact on our PharmD students than Robert L. Day, PharmD ’59. Thanks to a slew of generous donors, Bob, as many of you know him, will now influence our students in perpetuity. The Bob Day Student Center is a physical space for PharmD students to connect, exchange ideas, and build community. In addition to the Center, the Bob Day Student Support Fund will honor Bob’s commitment to PharmD students by supporting student activities and priorities. The fund is still accepting donations in Day’s honor.
As I’ve highlighted before, Bob is also our School’s historian. He painstakingly collected remembrances of decades of School alumni, as well as official documents, to create a history that was published in the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association Newsletter, for which he served as editor for decades.
We will be highlighting some of those past newsletters in this and future emails, starting with a comprehensive and character-filled look at one of our School’s proudest accomplishments: the creation of clinical pharmacy. The piece was written for the “40th anniversary of something magnificent that took place on a surgical floor at UCSF, spread around the world and forever changed the practice of pharmacy.” Here is “The Beginning of Something Magnificent,” by Bob Day, originally published in the fall edition of the 2006 alumni newsletter.
The unjust killings of Black and other minority individuals still front of mind, the School remains committed to exploring and enacting new reforms to make our community inclusive and actively supportive of all.
Tejal Desai, PhD, Chair of the Department Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, co-authored a commentary in Cell advocating for reform, titled “Fund Black scientists.” Tejal was among 19 representatives from a network of women deans, chairs, and distinguished faculty in biomedical engineering to pen the piece, a result of months of discussions about racial disparities in their field.
The group argues that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should develop a clear statement opposing racism in the U.S. research community, institute policies to immediately achieve racial funding equity, build diversity into the funding review process, and work to recognize and eliminate racism.
Both Esteban G. Burchard, MD, MPH, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, and Akinyemi Oni-Orisan, PharmD, PhD, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, recently contributed noteworthy opinion pieces in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their editorials highlighted the racial inequities present for health care providers and patients in the workplace, hospital, and clinic, as well as the vital use of genetic ancestry such that patients receive the safest and most effective therapies.
This week was International Women’s Day. UC Berkeley highlighted several of our women alumni and leaders in Remarkable Women of UC San Francisco.
The photo essay features:
Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, PharmD ’69, our former dean, who played a major role in the Ninth Floor Pharmacy Project.
Victoria Hale, PhD, a MacArthur fellow, alumnus from the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and the founder of a nonprofit pharmaceutical company dedicated to creating medicines for the developing world.
Josephine Eugenia Barbat, who in 1884 became the first female graduate of the College of Pharmacy that would later become part of UCSF, and she went on to become its first female instructor and also earn an MD.
Kathy Giacomini, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, who is recognized for her research into membrane transporters and is also the co-director of the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), the first regulatory science and innovation center on the West Coast.
The School continues to make strides in research on COVID-19 as well as other pressing threats to human health.
Esteban G. Burchard, MD, MPH, and Ryan Hernandez, PhD, both from the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, contributed to the Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) Program, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This project seeks to create a database of biological information from diverse populations to improve precision medicine. TOPMed recently published its first batch of genomic data in Nature, which will better enable scientists to design therapies for specific populations.
UCSF Magazine took a deep dive into the potential COVID-19 therapy known as AeroNabs, developed by Aashish Manglik, MD, PhD, from the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Peter Walter, PhD. The therapy, which blocks the SARS-CoV-2 virus and can be delivered as a nasal spray, was developed in record time in the spring of 2020 thanks to the diligent efforts of a team of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty advisors.
Tejal Desai, PhD, engineered an injectable nanomaterial that promises to improve the precision and strength of the cancer therapy known as CAR T-cell therapy. The nanomaterial mimics the molecular environment in which the immune system can best fend off threats, drawing in immune cells directly to the site of a tumor to selectively destroy cancerous cells.
The UCSF Alumni Association hosted Diana Hendel, PharmD ’89, for a question and answer session as part of their author series. Diana is the author of Responsible: A Memoir, in which she shares her leadership lessons as well as her journey recovering from the aftermath of a deadly workplace shooting while she was CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. It’s a deeply personal story told with insight and compassion, and I encourage you to watch it.
In a TEDx talk, Olivia Nathan, PharmD ’17, discussed PrEP, a once-a-day HIV prevention pill, revealing that PrEP is rarely prescribed to black women and how education could help fill this gap. “At UCSF, I had a rotation in HIV/AIDS care that changed my life,” she told an interviewer. Olivia makes the topic personal and leaves the viewer with hope.
UCSF Magazine covered the discovery of the ACE2 receptor by alum Susan Acton, PhD ’91. ACE2 is the protein that is exploited by SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells. Acton, who identified and named the ACE2 receptor in 2000, credits the School for providing “a perfect springboard to her MIT postdoc and eventual career in drug discovery.”
Two of our researchers, Patricia Babbitt, PhD, and Walter H. Moos, PhD, were selected as 2020 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Babbitt was recognized for her contributions to the field of computational biology and bioinformatics, particularly related to protein structure and function and applications to drug target identification and drug design. Moos was recognized for distinguished contributions to the fields of pharmaceutical sciences and medicinal chemistry.
Michelle Arkin, PhD, who took over as the new chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in January, was named a fellow by the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS). The announcement praised her “20 years of experience in academic pharmaceutical science, specifically in the areas of chemical biology and drug discovery.”
Valerie Clinard, PharmD, was named a fellow of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), which recognized her “innovative contributions to move pharmacy forward that exceed her calling as a faculty member.” Clinard is our associate dean of experiential education and professional development and has handled the critical task of overseeing the Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE) and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) programs. Her experiential efforts have been particularly noteworthy considering the fact she had to develop APPE opportunities for two classes against the backdrop of the pandemic.
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.