University in Virginia starts first US pharma engineering PhD


Qualification will train students in manufacturing procedures focusing on areas of drug product development such as continuous manufacturing and drug-containing nanomaterials

Thomas D Roper (L) and Sandro R da Rocha (R). Directors of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering at VCU. (Photo by Danny Tiet, courtesy VCU School of Pharmacy)

Virginia Commonwealth University will be home to the nation’s first PhD programme in pharmaceutical engineering.

The doctoral programme, a collaboration between VCU’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering, will focus on research and training students in areas of drug product development such as continuous manufacturing and drug-containing nanomaterials.

Barbara D Boyan, the Alice T and William H Goodwin Jr Dean of the College of Engineering, said, “The programme will address the growing need for a new generation of researchers trained in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science who recognise the need for a team-based approach to solving challenges related to the design and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.”

VCU received formal notice last week of the programme’s approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

“As a nationally prominent research institution, VCU is proud to lead the next wave of pharmaceutical innovation,” said VCU President Michael Rao. “I am grateful to SCHEV for its support of this programme and for recognising how it can benefit the commonwealth and the world.”

The doctoral programme will start its first class in the fall of 2020. Its multidisciplinary curriculum will offer students unique professional development opportunities and will cover advanced topics in the field, experimental techniques and scientific integrity, along with extensive directed and independent cross-disciplinary research.

“Our mission is to provide a student-centric, collaborative and team-based experience for our students. We will prepare the future generation of science and engineering leaders who can act in the pharmaceutical industry as well as in regulatory areas and academic settings,” said Sandro da Rocha, Director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and professor of pharmaceutics.

“By training scientists in better delivery systems and new medicines and therapies, we intend to find ways to treat complex diseases, even ones that have been considered untreatable,” Rocha added.

Pharmaceutical engineering and sciences make up key components of the US$1.2 trillion pharmaceutical industry. It is a convergent branch of science and engineering that uses a cross-disciplinary approach to design, develop and manufacture pharmaceutical products.

Examples of programme syllabus content:

  • Applying materials science and engineering to the development of drug delivery carriers and devices
  • Applying nanoscience and nanotechnology to medicine
  • Developing new technologies for the manufacture of chemicals and biologically active ingredients
  • Using computer science and engineering to model processes, harvest and analyse data for the design, discovery and manufacture of active ingredients
  • Using engineering and physiology for the development of new devices and formulations
  • Designing and manufacturing novel formulations for specific delivery profiles

Manufacturing focus

Historically, investment in the development of new medicines has focused on research more than on product delivery and manufacturing. In recent years, however, the US FDA has encouraged innovations in delivery systems such as nanomedicine and improvements in manufacturing processes to help ensure that patients get the medicines they need safely and effectively.

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“The VCU School of Pharmacy has always prepared professionals for the health care needs of the future,” said Joseph T DiPiro, Dean of the pharmacy school and the Archie O McCalley Chair. “This new PhD programme supports that mission, and cements VCU’s status as a groundbreaker in health-related education in ways that have visible and powerful effects on our communities.”