Pharmaceutics education and research was initiated at the University of Utah in 1968, with the establishment of the Department of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences, chaired by Professor Emeritus, Dr. Robert Petersen. Dr. Petersen's interests and activities included drug-container interactions and the development of tests for measuring the toxicity of plastics used as packaging materials. These interests lead to a natural collaboration with a new Materials Science and Engineering Program, and to the recruitment of new faculty with cross-disciplinary research interests then unconventional to traditional pharmacy. The Department's activities in novel polymeric biomaterials and drug delivery were thus initiated in the early 1970's.
The College of Pharmacy was reorganized in 1978, thus establishing the present Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Dr. William Higuchi was recruited as Chairman in 1982. The innovative and productive research interests and activities of he and his coworkers provided significantly expanded research activation. Increasing collaborative research with Utah's Biomedical Engineering program has produced numerous creative, impacting joint projects.
The Center for Controlled Chemical Delivery (CCCD) was founded by Dr. S.W. Kim in 1986, one of the first State of Utah Centers of Excellence. The recruitment of Dr. J. Kopecek (half-time with the Department of Biomedical Engineering) provided focus on water soluble polymers for drug delivery applications. Dr. J. Herron's recruitment provided expertise in antibody chemistry, with application to drug targeting. CCCD has organized and conducted an international drug delivery conference in Salt Lake City in odd-numbered years since 1983. The Utah conference now draws approximately 300 participants, making it one of the most significant drug delivery conferences in the field.
Dr. Dinesh Patel (Research Faculty from 1984-1986), S.W. Kim, and W. Higuchi founded the Department's first major spin-off company, Therapeutic Technologies, Inc. (TTI). TTI a mid-size pharmaceutical firm specializing in transdermal devices was subsequently bought by Watson Pharmaceuticals and Actavis. The faculty also consult for a variety of pharmaceutical and health care companies.
In 1997, Dr. William Higuchi stepped down as Chair of the Department of Pharmaceutics. During the following year, Dr. Joseph Andrade served as Interim Chair. Beginning 1999, Dr. Jindrich Kopecek began his term as Chair, serving until 2004. When Dr. Steven Kern served as Interim Chair until Dr. David Grainger's entrance in 2006. From 2016-2020 Dr. Carol Lim served as Interim Chair. In 2020 Dr. Hamid Ghandehari started serving as the new Chair of the Department.
The Pharmaceutics & Pharmaceutical Chemistry graduate program at the University of Utah emphasizes education at the interface of physical/physical organic chemistry, mathematics, novel materials and modern biology. Graduate students learn to apply fundamental concepts in these areas to many specialized areas of research, including:
- Mechanisms of drug transport in biological membranes, drug release from dosage forms/delivery systems, and drug targeting to specific organs, cells, or sub-cellular organelles;
- Design of novel drug delivery systems using physical, chemical, and biological approaches;
- Fundamental studies of the biophysical chemistry underlying various physiological or disease processes;
- Basic research in the kinetics and mechanisms of reactions involving drugs both in vitro and in vivo;
- Delivery methods for new biotechnology-based drug classes;
- Incorporation of nanoscience and nanotechnology to contribute to the emerging field of nanomedicine;
- Basic studies of the physical and chemical properties of drugs and biomaterials, including bioactive macromolecules and the influence of chemical structure on those properties.
Numerous opportunities exist at the University of Utah for collaboration with scientists, engineers, and clinicians in other departments (e.g., chemistry, biomedical engineering, materials science, and various departments and clinical efforts within the School of Medicine, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) ) as well as opportunities for collaboration with scientists at other universities and in industry, both in the United States and abroad. Moreover, several members of the faculty participate in the Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Biological Chemistry, a combined program offering education areas that cross traditional boundaries in the biological, biomedical and chemical sciences.
Pharmaceutical sciences focus on the physiology and chemistry controlling drug therapeutic action in modern medicine. Often confused with pharmacy practice, pharmaceutics is distinct in its research and development emphasis, contributing important technologies and scientific bases of drug delivery to patients. Over half of newly discovered drug candidates cannot be commercialized without further drug delivery and formulation assistance. Researchers trained in pharmaceutics integrate a broad working knowledge of diverse scientific disciplines: from fundamental studies of drug physiochemical properties and bioactive molecules to mechanisms of various physiological processes that impact drug delivery to specific biological sites of action and, therefore, their therapeutic effectiveness. Increasing awareness of the complexity of the drug delivery process in living systems means that researchers in pharmaceutics today must maintain breadth and depth in physical chemistry, physical organic chemistry, mathematics, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and the life sciences in order to solve research problems that require integration of basic science concepts from multiple disciplines with medical applications.
The increasing importance of drug delivery in the overall drug discovery and development process is widely appreciated by pharmaceutical industry: delivery methods improve drug efficacy and safety and provide new markets and extend drug patent lifetimes. Current therapeutic value emphasizes improving targeting of bio-active chemical species to specific sites of action. While easily stated, this is quite difficult to do experimentally, requiring multi-disciplinary teams of scientists strongly grounded in basic and applied sciences, engineering and medicine. Consequently, our Ph.D. graduates with diverse scientific training and research skills are highly recruited.
The University of Utah Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry is recognized world-wide as one of the leading departments in this discipline.