School introduces new Master of Science program in Artificial Intelligence and Computational Drug Discovery and Development

Beginning fall 2024, a new Master of Science (MS) graduate degree program in the rapidly evolving field of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Drug Discovery and Development (AICD3) will lead transformational changes occurring in the field of drug discovery and drug development, enabling graduates to gain a competitive edge for some of the most desirable jobs in the biopharmaceutical industry and in academia.

The MS in AICD3 is the first of its kind in the United States and the first master’s program in the School of Pharmacy. It is administered by the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS), a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine and is offered by the Graduate Division.

The new degree program will train the next generation of scientists to apply computer science, data science, statistical analysis, machine learning, and other data-driven methods to bolster the discovery and development of new drugs and therapies for diseases that desperately need a cure.

“Everything is becoming more computational,” said Joanne Chun, PharmD, PhD, who directs postgraduate education programs and will take on new roles as both AICD3 program director and BTS faculty member. “People in industry already recognize the talent and training at UCSF, but we have to take it a step further to create a pipeline—a bridge—between academia and industry.”

Students will learn not only about different computational tools but also about sources for the storage, management, analysis, and modeling of drugs. Hands-on workshops will enable students to apply different computational programs used for designing novel drugs, as well as systematically assessing potential lead candidates and developing digital repositories for studying chemical interactions. Clinical Pharmacology Fellow Michelle Wang, PharmD, PhD, will be joining the AICD3 program with a new appointment as assistant professor in BTS, contributing her expertise in using novel AI computational methods to improve the use of novel therapeutics.

The new program reflects the interdisciplinary training that is a hallmark of UCSF’s approach to research, with in-demand new skills informing the range of roles that can be pursued by PharmDs. “People at UCSF who lead in this field helped us propel this program to be fast-tracked,” said Chun, a member of the program’s steering committee, which includes Co-Vice Dean of Pharmacy Education Programs Brian Shoichet, PhD; Co-Vice Dean of Pharmacy Education Programs Rada Savic, PhD; and Dean Kathy Giacomini, PhD, BSPharm.

“Students weren’t asking for an MS degree, but they were asking for more opportunities in addition to the fellowships that already exist. Creating a formal professional program was necessary, because 80 percent of grads now go on to further training,” Chun added. “The UC system is already using computational tools, and we have so many experts throughout the entire spectrum of drug development and drug discovery. Now we will have an amazing curriculum, from learning how to program in Python and R to understanding and implementing algorithms and deep learning.”

The AICD3 program is guided by an industry advisory board that includes partnerships with marquee companies like Genentech, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, and Amgen. In addition to teaching, the partners will be helping with financial support and securing internships and mentorships to support UCSF’s mission of training the next generation in the health sciences.

The new program is open to applicants with a bachelor’s degree, and Chun says it will be especially beneficial to PharmD grads because of their foundational knowledge in pharmacology. AICD3 synergizes the School’s mission of improving basic understanding of the mechanisms of disease while serving the community at large through educational and service programs.


MS Degree Program in AICD3


School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences

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.

A fast-track success story

The road to approval for any new degree program in the University of California system is far from a foregone conclusion. According to Director of Postgraduate Education Programs Joanne Chun, PharmD, PhD, Dean Kathy Giacomini PhD, BSPharm, had predicted that establishment of the MS in AICD3 would take two to three years.

Instead, perhaps reflecting the surprisingly swift adaptation of AI thanks to the meteoric rise of ChatGPT, the program is a fast-track success story, and it includes a new role for Chun, who has been named director of the MS in AICD3.

A world-class faculty


Joanne Chun, PharmD, PhD, spearheads the creation and development of innovative programs. She will continue directing postgraduate education programs while directing AICD3 and teaching in the program. “Getting something like this off the ground involves an exhaustive list of resources and people throughout the schools of pharmacy and medicine,” she said.

Chun’s full-stack software engineering skills enhance her expertise in pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics, pharmacogenomics, and molecular biology. She has found her niche in drug discovery and development, focusing on efficient data processing and integrating diverse datasets. Her passion is anchored in transforming patient care, with a particular emphasis on harnessing the power of computational methods and approaches to advance therapeutics.


Michelle Wang, PharmD, PhD, a BTS clinical pharmacology fellow, also will teach in the program under a new appointment as assistant professor in BTS. Wang’s work focuses on learning from longitudinal and complex real-world data to gain insights into advancing effective, safe, and personalized therapeutic use and clinical decision making. She will mentor AICD3 students on using large language models and other machine learning and deep learning models to improve clinical care and patient outcomes.

More faculty announcements are forthcoming.