As an example of programmatic change within an academic unit and of the role of NIH predoctoral training grants in facilitating this change, this article focuses on graduate education in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Kansas over the past 30 years (Figures 14.1 through 14.3). In particular, it underscores changes implemented in the mid-1980s to generate Ph.D. scientists who could compete effectively for jobs in the emerging biotechnology industry.
The Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (also called pharmaceutics at some universities) at the University of Kansas was founded in 1967 by the late Professor Takeru Higuchi. Professor Higuchi, who was trained as a physical chemist, entered the field of pharmaceutical chemistry in the late 1940s when he joined the faculty of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin. After moving to the University of Kansas, Professor Higuchi built the predoctoral training and research programs in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry around the philosophy that success in understanding drug actions, controlling drug delivery across biological barriers and to drug receptors, developing stable drug formulations, and creating methods for analysis of drug substances required a thorough knowledge of the basic principles of analytical, physical, physical organic, and organic chemistry. Because the pharmaceutical industry at that time was oriented largely toward the discovery and development of small-molecule-based drug candidates, Professor Higuchi’s philosophy was well received, and the department built strong relationships with this industry user of its products. These products included Ph.D. scientists as well as knowledge and new technologies focused on small molecules (see Figure 14.1).
In the 1980s, the pharmaceutical industry began to undergo dramatic changes resulting from the biotechnology revolution. The introduction of this new technology made it possible for the first time to produce large quantities of macromolecules (e.g., proteins) as drug candidates. This change began to affect our graduate program in the mid-1980s when some of these macromolecules reached preclinical development. Interestingly, this change in the industry coincided with my transfer from the Department of Biochemistry to the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry to replace Professor Higuchi, who had retired as chairperson. While I fully respected and supported Professor Higuchi’s educational philosophy, I also recognized the impact that biotechnology was having on the pharmaceutical industry and the need to implement change in our graduate program to accommodate the changes occurring in industry. The need for this change became more evident when biotechnology companies began to hire our Ph.D. graduates to participate in the preclinical development of macromolecule-based drug candidates. We quickly realized (based on feedback from our alumni) that our Ph.D. graduates were not properly trained to perform this development function. During the next five years (from approximately 1985 to 1990), biotechnology companies continued to hire our Ph.D. graduates but were forced to provide on-the-job training related to macromolecules for these new scientists (see Figure 14.2).
As chairperson of the department, I was then confronted with the delicate problem of implementing change in a program that was highly respected both nationally and internationally. I choose the words “delicate problem” because, while our department needed to begin to train Ph.D. scientists who could function effectively as members of development teams for macromolecule-based drug candidates in biotechnology companies, we needed at the same time to continue to produce Ph.D. scientists who could function effectively as members of development teams for small-molecule-based drug candidates in more traditional pharmaceutical companies.