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Janet WalkowDr. Janet Walkow serves as the executive director and chief technology officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, building on a successful career as a pharmaceutical executive, where she directed efforts ranging from R&D product development, human resources, project management, and global communication to leading the corporate strategic planning office. She is the co-founder of the Leading Women Project and involved in numerous efforts to help women around the world.

Everyone gets sick. Thanks to medical innovations in the past 50 years, many diseases and conditions have been either mitigated or even cured. The process for turning a research innovation into a therapeutic medicine that health care providers prescribe to patients takes considerable time, money, and persistence. The advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provides a forum for educating a wide range of people, including science scholars and leisure learners.

Last fall, the University of Texas joined edX, a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT, to bring the best of higher education to students of all ages anywhere in the world via the internet—for free. Take Your Medicine (TYM) is one of four initial courses offered through the University of Texas. It has created buzz due to its broad outreach to consumers as well as scientists.

TYM explores the process, challenges, and issues in developing and commercializing pharmaceutical products. Drug development is a dynamic field where innovation and entrepreneurship is necessary to keep up with health care expectations, stricter regulations, tightening development budgets, and undertreated diseases in the developing world. An overview of drug development, approval, and commercialization is presented and discussed in the context of public welfare, policy, science, academic contributions, pricing, and regulations. Participants from all backgrounds and interest, including basic researchers, health care professionals, entrepreneurs, and the general public, have been encouraged to participate.

The success of a Contemporary Drug Development course spurred my team to develop TYM, an 8-week online MOOC. Over two dozens experts contributed to the course including researchers, clinicians, FDA, industry, and entrepreneurs. The course gives students a robust overview of the drug development process and helps them understand the various stakeholders and efforts involved in getting a new drug from the laboratory into the market. The modules provide the knowledge and vocabulary to allow the students to enhance interactions with healthcare practitioners and better understand advances and challenges in the development of medical therapies. Academics and professionals within the health care field will gain exposure to areas outside of their specific discipline, fostering a more holistic view of the development process. The TYM team views this as a win-win for everyone.

Educating a global audience is both a challenge and responsibility. TYM is designed to inform consumers and scientists. Our global community has come to expect new medical innovations on a regular basis. In a time when pharmaceutical companies are downsizing, regulations are increasing, and 8 of 10 prescriptions filled in the United States are  for generic products, it is important to educate scientists who can continue to innovate and create a better-informed and supportive public. Understanding how drugs are developed and how to be a savvy consumer can benefit individuals, communities, and our industry.

Will TYM make a ding in the world? Maybe, maybe not—but, it can only help.

Do you have any ideas for an online course that would help address educational training gaps for AAPS members?