Pharmaceutics teaching and the pharmaceutical industry

July 1, 2008
Fridrun Podczeck
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Volume 20, Issue 7

Last year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain held a consultation regarding how the profession should develop during the next 12 years. An analysis of the results has just been published.1 It comes as no surprise to anyone who teaches pharmaceutics at UK pharmacy departments that one popular suggestion was to change the indicative syllabus so that it would focus more on clinical topics as opposed to scientific ones.

Last year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain held a consultation regarding how the profession should develop during the next 12 years. An analysis of the results has just been published.1 It comes as no surprise to anyone who teaches pharmaceutics at UK pharmacy departments that one popular suggestion was to change the indicative syllabus so that it would focus more on clinical topics as opposed to scientific ones.

Undergraduate pharmacy students find it difficult to cope with science-based teaching, and the average marks in pharmaceutics exams are usually lower than those in clinical or pharmacy practice topics. Pharmaceutics — in particular formulation, physical pharmacy and pharmaceutical technology — requires good knowledge of mathematics and physics, but the UK entry requirements for pharmacy do not include A Level qualifications in these disciplines. The degree courses do not have room for these topics to be introduced, nor would most students be interested in such fundamental studies. Additionally, the situation is made worse by the lack of funding for postgraduate research in formulation, physical pharmacy and pharmaceutical technology/engineering — nowadays, such funding is associated with departments of chemical or mechanical engineering — and pharmacy departments at universities are suffering the consequences. They can no longer recruit academic staff capable of teaching these specialist topics. The teaching of pharmaceutics is, hence, often reduced to 'advanced drug delivery', such as liposomes and nanoparticles. Many new departments, and even some of the established pharmacy schools, lack basic technology equipment such as granulators, mixers and tabletting machines.

Under the 1946 National Health Services Act, pharmacists were given the explicit role of supplying all medicines and appliances prescribed. This brief requires the maintenance of the unique skills of formulation and manufacture of medicines, but the profession is now moving away from this. Pharmacists are encouraged to respond to symptoms and prescribe, and the knowledge of medicine making is no longer of interest. Thus, pharmacists are giving up their unique skills for access to clinical work that can be done by a number of professions.

Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry appears ready to support this trend. In a recent article,2 it was suggested that the future roles of pharmacists in the pharmaceutical industry included mainly clinical (e.g., medical information, pharmacovigilance, regulatory affairs and clinical research) and marketing skills rather than technical skills. The author admitted that for the latter, the industry has opted for the wider choice of recruits from all areas of science and engineering.

On an annual basis, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry visit the UK's schools and departments of pharmacy. These visits have different shapes and sizes, ranging from an afternoon of plenary lectures to informal meetings with individual students. In this way, the pharmaceutical industry is attempting to raise its profile among pharmacy undergraduate students. The message repeatedly received by students is that there are only a few industrial preregistration places available in the UK, and that these are reserved for students from a select few 'established' schools of pharmacy. Any pharmacist wishing to join the pharmaceutical industry without having had such a preregistration place or a PhD in a relevant field of research is expected to work for a few years in community pharmacies or hospitals before approaching recruitment agencies. The question that arises here is whether and how the pharmaceutical industry is approaching young pharmacists that have spent time in community or hospital pharmacies.

Finally, current developments in the perceptions of the role of pharmacists in the society at large are not only disadvantageous for the pharmaceutical industry and academia, but also for patients. Prescription errors, and errors in handling and taking of medicines are, sadly, rather common. For example, delayed and modified release tablets are frequently crushed to ease swallowing, yet pharmacists do not normally advise patients who are collecting their prescriptions not to do so; usually the pharmacist checks the name of the patient and otherwise remains silent. In a way, one might feel sorry for the pharmacists — how are they to recognise such a medicine if their formulation and technology training was limited?

Fridrun Podczeck is affiliated with University College London (UK).

References

1. H. Patel, Pharm. J., 280(7499), S1–S4 (2008).

2. S. Goundrey-Smith, Pharm. J., 280(7493), 304 (2008).