Tony DeStefano, Ph.D., is the 2013 president of AAPS.
Through the first decade of AAPS’s existence, over 70% of its members worked for large pharmaceutical companies. In the most recent AAPS membership survey, only 27% of its members identified themselves as part of large pharma. Without doubt, the pharmaceutical industry has undergone dramatic changes, and the large pharma model for the discovery and development of blockbuster products is evolving rapidly. These changes in approach are leading to new and innovative ways to discover, develop, and deliver new drug products, which in turn lead to the need for new skills on the part of the pharmaceutical scientist. The availability of people with these skills will, in part, determine the long-term success of the industry.
Many of these changes are being driven by the tremendous advances in pharmaceutical technology and in the understanding of the causes and remediation of diseases at the molecular level. The use of nanotechnology and targeted drug delivery will soon allow for the potential cure of cancers and other diseases that at present are treated with much less focused therapies. Personalized (or even personal) medicine is a reality and will drive the need for new skills in drug discovery (molecular biology) and drug development (new targeted delivery systems) and is changing the look of faculty at schools of pharmacy, and how pharmaceutical companies go about their work.
Traditionally, innovation predominantly happened inside the confines of a single company, and an innovation would be developed within a single corporate entity until a final drug product made its way to the market. The changes that are occurring are revolutionary rather than evolutionary, and this has resulted in the need for many companies to look externally for the biology and pharmaceutical technology needed to allow rapid drug discovery and development. What does this mean for the current scientists whose skills may no longer match the new needs? As skill set needs change, it is important that members of this group pick up new skills quickly enough to remain current and help with the need for more people and expertise in the new areas. The alternative is a talent vacuum in areas where it’s needed most and a capable, talented pool of people that lack specific skills to contribute in a timely way.
Understanding how innovation will take place and how innovations will evolve into new treatments is critical to having the people with the right skills ready as they’re needed. What role do smaller, more-specialized companies play in introducing new ideas and approaches to address medical problems, and what are the relationships that develop between them and their larger counterparts from traditional pharma? How is the role of large pharma changing with regard to discovery and development and what role will it play in the future? How do we help prepare the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists for the new skills that will be demanded of them?
AAPS is a recognized leader in providing the educational, problem solving, and networking tools and venues for a broad range of pharmaceutical scientists. Is it prepared to meet the needs of the scientists emerging from the new paradigm, and if not, what will it take?