No other pharmacy graduates in the nation will have credentials quite like those from Manchester University, says Director of Pharmacogenomics Education Dr. David Kisor. The small liberal arts school in northern Indiana says it’s the first in the U.S. to offer a dual degree in pharmacy and pharmacogenomics—a relatively new area in healthcare hungry for experts. Kisor believes the dual doctor of pharmacy and master of pharmacogenomics program is a “differentiator” for the school, its students and—most importantly—patients who could be spared a dangerous dose of medicine.
“In 2017, there were almost 2 million adverse drug reactions, and of those, more than 800,000 were serious adverse drug reactions, meaning a patient needed to be treated or see a healthcare provider because of a drug reaction,” says Kisor, who is also a professor of pharmaceutical sciences. “There were more than 160,000 deaths in 2017 due to adverse drug reactions, and many of these can be related to an individual’s genetics.”
Kisor says pharmacogenomics is a powerful antidote to adverse drug reactions. The relatively new area of study involves analyzing the patient’s genetic makeup, then prescribing medication tailored for that individual. A drug that works for one person may, for example, cause an adverse reaction in another individual with the same disease, due to their unique genotype.
The American Council on Pharmaceutical Education didn’t begin requiring schools to teach pharmacogenomics until 2016. That year, Manchester was the first pharmacy school in the nation to launch a master’s degree in pharmacogenomics. The university says technology that analyzes a person’s genetic makeup has since exploded, making the information readily available.
“[Pharmacogenomics] is the next way to prescribe medicine. It’s a much more personalized approach,” says Manchester Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics Dr. Diane Calinski. “It’s tailored to the patient, so overall, it has better health outcomes for the patient and [reduces costs] in our healthcare system. Pharmacogenomics is the future of medicine, so we recognize that it’s important to emphasize that in our pharmacy education.”
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, for example, now performs pharmacogenomics testing for every patient. But Kisor says, nationally, training programs have struggled to provide experts at the same pace the field is expanding.
Manchester leaders believe the new dual degree program, the first of its kind in the U.S., will swell the number of pharmacogenomics experts. Traditionally, schools offer four-year professional Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees; while Manchester will continue its conventional Pharm.D. program, students can now simultaneously earn a pharmacogenomics master’s degree.
“They can finish…in the four years that it takes to do just the Pharm.D. alone,” says Calinski. “They’re here for the same amount of time, but when they finish, they have two degrees instead of one.”
Manchester says it admits more than 70 pharmacy students each year, and currently, 10 have applied for the dual degree program; Calinski expects that number to grow to about 15.
Ellen Line is a first-year Pharm.D. student at Manchester who plans to enroll in the dual degree program; she says pharmacogenomics is something “pharmacists will need to know to excel in the field.”
“I thought to myself, four years from now when I do get a pharmacy position, I’m going to wish I had [the pharmacogenomics expertise],” says Line. “I don’t want to have to go back to school after I’ve already found a job. I’d rather do it now and learn both things at the same time, before I even go into the pharmacy profession.”
Kisor believes Manchester’s pharmacogenomics master’s program and dual degree set the university apart; while the other two pharmacy schools in the state, Butler University and Purdue University, teach pharmacogenomics, Manchester is the only one with a master’s program.
“We’re just ahead of the curve, I think. There’s no template or standard, so in many ways, we’re setting the standard,” says Kisor. “We’ll be the first to graduate capable pharmacogenomics experts. The real visionaries are the students coming into these programs, because right now, there’s no defined standard job for these graduates; they’re going to go out there and create these jobs—from community pharmacies to large medical centers. And patients are going to benefit.”
While adverse drug reactions are more dangerous, Kisor says drug inefficacy is an additional issue that causes patient suffering and unnecessary healthcare costs.
Kisor expects the dual degree program to at least double the number of pharmacists in the U.S. with pharmacogenomics expertise.
Line says she’s excited to be among the first pharmacists in the country with pharmacogenomics expertise.