Q&A

The scoop from Dean O’Donnell

Published November 28, 2018

James O'Donnell

As part of a new series of interviews with UB’s deans, UB Now sat down with James M. O’Donnell, dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to learn more about the school’s strategic priorities, as well as trends in pharmacy education, research and career paths. 

What are the school’s top priorities for the academic year?

First, continuing to build the research strengths of the school. Ongoing efforts involve faculty recruitment in the area of biologically based therapeutics, leadership recruitment in clinical pharmacy, and initiation of a research training program in pharmacometrics and personalized pharmacotherapy.

Second, engaging our clinical partners to provide high-quality experiential sites for students, clinical practice sites for faculty and opportunities for patient-centric research.

Third, ensuring that the curriculum, experiential opportunities, and leadership experiences of our pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences students are both comprehensive and innovative.

Finally, we are in a comprehensive campaign to raise funds to support the school’s programs.  We want to increase scholarship and fellowship support in order to recruit the best students and ensure they have opportunities to grow and learn. We want to recruit the best faculty and provide them with the resources to excel. And we want to increase opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage the larger scientific and professional communities, as well as positively influence Buffalo and Western New York.

What exciting research initiatives are underway at the school?

There are so many! Use of comprehensive data from individual and large populations drives treatment optimization in our systems pharmacology and pharmacometrics efforts. Novel research methods are being developed for targeted drug delivery, including nanoparticles and biologically based methods, such as exosomes, modified proteins and cells. Protocols are being optimized for treatment of infectious diseases, including those involving HIV and hepatitis C, and for managing antibiotic-resistant infections. Analysis of Medicaid program drug-utilization data is helping to improve treatment approaches and reduce costs for New York State residents.

How are you preparing students to meet current employment trends and also become leaders in the profession of pharmacy and in the diverse fields of the pharmaceutical sciences?

Students in the PharmD program are provided opportunities for additional education and training through collaborative degree programs, a variety of international experiences through our Global Health Initiative, and also our innovative Scholars and Clinical Research programs.  Leadership development is a core aspect of these efforts and also a component of a wide range of opportunities for involvement in professional organizations at the local, state and national levels. Pharmaceutical sciences students work with leaders in the field and are provided opportunities to meet with other scientists and scholars through an active seminar program. Attendance at regional and national conferences also gives students the chance to present seminal research and be recognized for their promising scholarship.

What is the school’s role in the growth of UB’s Academic Health Center (AHC), which is bringing together the expertise of UB’s six health science schools with local hospital partners to provide high-impact interprofessional education and the most advanced care to patients in Western New York?

We are fully committed to our Great Lakes Health partnership with Kaleida Health and the Erie County Medical Center, as well as local clinical affiliations with the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Catholic Health, UBMD, Buffalo Medical Group and General Physicians PC. Our faculty and students are placed at these sites, where they make positive contributions to clinical service and research. We also participate in and help lead interprofessional education activities with the other UB health sciences schools and ensure immersive clinical training occurs for all our students.

Under the leadership of Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences, the pharmacy school and the other health science schools meet regularly to discuss how we can continue to elevate the mission of the AHC, allowing us to attract the most competitive students and provide them with the premier educational experience only an AHC can provide.

In 2019, the school is undergoing a review by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). What are the objectives of that process and the value of the school’s continuing accreditation by ACPE?

Standards are set for pharmacy education by various stakeholders in the profession and ACPE is the accrediting organization that reviews PharmD programs. For pharmacists to be licensed, they have to have graduated from an accredited program. The accreditation self-study is a faculty-led effort that includes students, staff and other stakeholders. The purpose is to evaluate our program in light of the standards developed by ACPE. Since these standards have changed since our last accreditation site visit, it is important that we identify any deficiencies and develop and implement plans to overcome them. The process has started out well, and I am confident that we will be fully prepared for our site visit in October 2019.

What programs, initiatives or innovations are you most proud of since being named dean in 2013?

First, I’d like to mention that the school was in excellent shape when I arrived, in large measure due to Dean Anderson’s leadership. The school had moved to a new building on the South Campus, the curriculum had undergone a significant revision, there had been recruitment of new faculty in pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical sciences, and it had been reaccredited for eight years.

Over the past five years, we have made great strides in enhancing relationships with our local clinical associates. Kaleida Health has been an excellent system to affiliate with and has become our primary PharmD training facility. Our relationship with Erie County Medical Center is also important, with student training and faculty research occurring there, as well as with other valued health systems across the area.

We have also made great strides in faculty development, with a number of faculty being promoted in recognition of past and recent high-impact research and scholarship. Finally, though I can’t take credit for it, I am very proud of the research strength and productivity of our faculty. They are leaders in many areas of pharmaceutical sciences, including pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic relationships, drug delivery, protein therapeutics and pharmacy-related health outcomes. This outstanding research base is the foundation for educating our students and driving evidence-based pharmacy practice.

What is the most important thing you want the external community to know about the school?

Without a doubt, we are the best pharmacy school in New York and among a relatively small group of elite, research-intensive schools in the United States. Our pharmaceutical sciences program is internationally recognized for its contributions to the field and training of outstanding scientists. Our PharmD program graduates highly qualified pharmacists with strong patient-care skills and the knowledge to practice advanced, evidence-based pharmacy.

What are the school’s philanthropic priorities under the university’s Boldly Buffalo campaign?

Our campaign priorities align and support campus-wide campaign focal areas with the goal of growing the school’s endowment through scholarships, fellowships and named professorships/chairs.  

Investing in our students: We would like to continue expanding our dual-degree options, allowing students to collaborate in innovative ways to improve their futures and the future of health care, as well as further support transformative student experiences allowing them to pursue careers of discovery and innovation.

Empowering our faculty: We want to continue to build on our strengths in basic, clinical and translational research through these areas of expertise:

  • Pharmacometrics: Position us to discover and develop future personalized medicines and therapies.
  • Protein therapeutics: Continue our national leadership in protein-based drug discovery.
  • Pharmacy outcomes: Assess medications and practices resulting in the healthiest patients and most cost-effective outcomes.

Improving our community, region and world: We would like to grow and expand these key school-based initiatives:

  • The Center for HOPE (Health Outcomes, Pharmacoinformatics and Epidemiology), a pioneering center that assesses and evaluates health-outcomes data for global health care providers.
  • The Model Pharmacy, a facility that identifies best practices and cost-effective outcomes to raise the standard of pharmacy care.
  • Creation of an Entrepreneur’s Fund to support faculty discoveries in commercialization and accelerate patents, licensing agreements and clinical trials.