The University Record, October 18, 1999

Joint pharmacy-engineering degree program launched

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Their hands fly around, their eyes dance and their words spill out when they talk about the new degree program. They are excited about its possibilities, about helping students and about supplying the rapidly increasing need for graduates who can excel in a new work environment that incorporates elements from both of their fields.

Nair Rogriguez-Hernedo and Henry Wang began their informal collaboration years ago, just talking about the directions into which study in pharmacy and chemical engineering had begun to drift and how the two fields overlap. But when scientific breakthroughs in genetics began to get the world’s attention, the two researchers realized that their collaboration and expertise in their fields could help students prepare to face particular challenges for drug development and delivery in a very rapidly changing industry.

Their design for a master of engineering degree program in pharmaceutical engineering was the highlight of a September symposium on “Science and Technology Needs in Pharmaceutical and Life Science-Related Industries.”

“Because of these advances in genomics, there are many novel drug molecules that have been found, and there is now a backlog of new drugs to be tested,” says Wang, who is professor of chemical engineering and of biomedical engineering. Students who are trained in the new program, which will offer courses that teach them skills in scientific computation, database and information management, and automation management, as well as dosage formulation and process development, will have a much smaller learning curve when they leave the University, he says.

Rodriguez, associate professor of pharmaceutics, says that the emphasis must be on cross-disciplinary studies instead of compartmentalized and focused study only in chemical engineering or in pharmaceutics. “It was as if we put the different pieces in silos,” she says. “The chemists would be in this silo, marketing in this one, drug delivery over here.”

But the real world isn’t like that, the two researchers say. In order for students to enter the field and contribute, they must not only know chemistry and biology, but interact with those who have marketing skills, with physicians and with government regulation.

“If we don’t train our students, they will have a very large learning curve when they leave here,” Rodriguez says.

Wang agrees. “In engineering, we use teams but we tend to make them all of engineers. At the University, we tend to be absorbed in what we are doing. But there are many other concerns and that narrow focus does not work in the real world.”

Although the program is only in its first stages, feedback from students and from recent graduates is very positive.

“That is our reward,” Rodriguez says. “Students see the possibilities. Students who graduate will find ways to contribute and fulfill a need in society.”

Rodriguez and Wang are working to reach out to other disciplines in the University to broaden the base of ideas and provide expert knowledge in new areas of the program. Students, they say, are the best conduit for faculty and researchers at the U-M who can contribute to the program.

“They are the ones who know who is doing similar or related work,” Rodriguez says.

“They will come to you and say, ‘You should talk to this professor. He is doing something you should know about,’ ” Wang says.

Both Wang and Rodriguez are eager to talk with other researchers who have similar goals, and those from marketing, information and statistics management who would like to join the collaborative effort. To reach Wang, call 763-5659. Rodriguez can be reached at 763-0101.

Information on the new degree program, the September symposium and upcoming seminars is available on the Web at www.engin.umich.edu/dept/che/pharmeng/index.html.