From the Editor: Better Science = Better Business

Aug. 18, 2008
Revamping pharmaceutical education is key to improving drug development and manufacturing.

August is always a wistful time, as choruses of crickets remind us that summer will soon be over, and a new school year will begin. The passing of each summer asks whether its lush promise was fully realized. But late summer is also the time when think tanks and educators take stock of the educational process, how well it is delivering on its potential and how it can be improved. By most accounts, the U.S. glass is only half full.

In mid-July, the TAP initiative, led by business organizations including the National Association of Manufacturers, Council on Competitiveness and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, issued a sour note. The U.S. is falling far short of the goal that TAP had set for it in 2005: doubling the number of U.S. students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by 2015. By 2010, the TAP report noted, 90% of the world’s engineers will live in Asia.

Vivek Wadhwa and others at Duke University have criticized TAP’s figures and argue that there are enough talented scientists and engineers being trained in the U.S. Yet, observers agree on the need for:

  • increased government funding to make research careers more attractive
  • more pragmatic training, in synch with industry needs.

Such training was the basis for the National Research Council’s “Masters for a Competitive World” report, issued on July 11, which examines the ascendancy of the professional master’s degree. Those pursuing doctoral degrees in life sciences in the U.S. are often frustrated by lack of government or academic research positions, or the pay levels. Many bolt for industry, only to find that their training hasn’t equipped them for available jobs.

The “lose-lose” situation that results has them accepting jobs for which they are overqualified, then leaving them. Over the last 10 years, salaries of those with M.S. degrees in life sciences have grown faster than those for B.S. or Ph.D. degree-holders, the study suggests, while biopharma has a growing, and still largely unmet, need for professionals with the right mix of technical and business skills.

Focusing more narrowly on the specific needs of the industry, the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education (NIPTE) is developing new education roadmap, soon to be published. As the roadmap suggests, pharmaceutical product and process development, like drug manufacturing, have lagged behind advances in discovery and basic science. NIH funding focuses mainly on discovery research, and has diminished the number of academic experts in development and manufacturing, with a ripple effect.

Not long ago, Contributing Editor Emil Ciurczak paraphrased former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in asking the question: Will Pharma battle for improved drug development and manufacturing with the workforce it has, or the workforce it wants? We believe that the industry has the workforce it needs, but that it also has the power to transform education and training to meet tomorrow’s needs. Peer-to-peer education will be key, as will the adoption of enabling technologies early in the value chain. In some small way, we’ll try to advance these efforts.

In October, we will be launching, a new community-oriented web site that will parallel what we attempt to do with advance modern science-based approaches to improve quality and reduce waste. We believe that scientific inquiry and experiment are not at odds with business strength. In fact, the mission statement for the new site is “Better Science. Better Business.”

One hallmark of the new site will be regular interviews with you who are directly involved in this paradigm shift. These won’t be stiff and self-serving pieces or marketingspeak from operating or vendor company managers but provocative, even critical pieces examining the promise, and the flaws, of the new vision for the pharma industry, as organizations move to modernize drug development and manufacturing.

About the Author

Agnes Shanley | Editor in Chief