15 minute read

Where Innovation Shines

Where Innovation Shines


IN 1859, two years before Abraham Lincoln would inhabit the White House and nearly five decades before the establishment of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Chicago College of Pharmacy came into existence.

The creation of the Chicago College, the precursor to the modern-day UIC College of Pharmacy, was a dynamic step in the fledgling field of pharmaceutical education. At the time, only a handful of pharmacy schools even operated in the United States, while the American Pharmaceutical Association, with its mission to advance the knowledge of pharmacy practitioners across the country, had only emerged seven years prior in 1852.

The Chicago College was an undeniable trailblazer and one that would set an innovative pace that the institution —through name changes and physical moves, sweeping changes in healthcare delivery, and rampant scientific discovery—would carry into its research, service, and academic missions.

Beginning in the 1940s, Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal’s pioneering work in tuberculosis sparked the development of the Tice BCG vaccine, a groundbreaking discovery that helped millions of Americans avoid the potentially fatal disease. Forty years later, the FDA approved Tice BCG as a treatment for bladder cancer thanks to the continuous enterprising investigation of UIC researchers.

1940s: Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal develops Tice BCG vaccine as a treatment for tuberculosis. 1980s: UIC’s Institute for Tuberculosis Research finds Tice BCG vaccine as effective bladder cancer treatment.

Starting in the late 1960s, meanwhile, UIC pioneered clinical pharmacy education and, particularly, advanced clinical practice. Programs developed at the college now serve as the standard of practice around the world and have expanded the roles and responsibilities of pharmacists in the clinical setting and highlighted their professional expertise. Collaborative relationships with international partners in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malta, among others, bring UIC’s innovative brand of clinical pharmacy around the world as well.

Drug discovery innovations continue in present times. Just last year, in fact, retired faculty member Dr. Donald Waller followed in the late Rosenthal’s footsteps when Phexxi, the nonhormonal vaginal gel he helped develop as a new contraceptive, gained FDA approval.

For students at both its Chicago and Rockford campuses, the UIC College of Pharmacy has long delivered spirited learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. In

addition to courses taught by leading faculty, experiential education brings students into diverse clinical settings for rich knowledge and skills-building opportunities while partnerships with industry include fellowships and internships in areas like pharmacovigilance, health economics, and therapeutics research.

“We’re looked at as an institution that innovates and pushes boundaries,” UIC College of Pharmacy dean Dr. Glen Schumock says. “Innovation is really what we’re all about, and it affects all aspects of our mission, whether that’s drug discovery research, developing new approaches to care for patients, or offering novel learning opportunities for our students.”

With its problem-solving ethos, a daring spirit to invent, and a commitment to improving human health, even amidst a global health pandemic, the college’s innovative push continues shining today. It creates agents for change, sets an inspired pace for the profession, impacts patient lives, and contributes to more robust healthcare service and education.

Institute for Tuberculosis Research: The pioneering research center battling TB and other bacterial infections

Today, nearly 75 years after its founding, the Institute for Tuberculosis Research (ITR) at UIC continues to build on the bold scientific spirit of Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal, the ITR’s founding director, and his mentor, Dr. Frederick Tice.

The ITR pursues ambitious drug discovery programs by mixing medicinal chemistry, natural products chemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, structural biology, drug metabolism, pharmacokinetics, and toxicology with cutting-edge lab work and strategic partnerships. The research facility is currently exploring new tuberculosis (TB) drugs, pursuing rapid tests capable of accelerating drug development, and probing potential new antibiotics.

“All the easy things have been done before, so if you want to make a difference in the real world, you definitely have to be forward-thinking and inventive,” says ITR director Dr. Scott Franzblau, the Albert Schatz Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy.

That is certainly the ITR’s motto.

Even after Dr. Rosenthal created an alternative vaccine for TB seven decades ago, the ever-inquisitive nature of ITR researchers sparked research showing Tice BCG as an effective immune system stimulant and anticancer agent. Today, Tice BCG is the principal treatment for bladder cancer, which affects some 550,000 global citizens each year.

Through Merck, Tice BCG as an immune-oncology therapy for bladder cancer has returned well over $40 million in royalties to UIC and the ITR. Those funds have fueled additional exploratory research at the ITR, including new vaccines to treat TB, a public health threat that remains among the leading causes of death worldwide. Buoyed by a $28 million grant with the TB Alliance, the ITR is now leading medicationdevelopment efforts to combat drug-resistant TB strains and to eradicate the infection in weeks, not months.

Working in its Biosafety Level 3 lab, among the few such laboratories in metro Chicago, ITR researchers are developing rapid tests enabling the screening of tens of

thousands of samples simultaneously for the ability to kill TB bacteria. The ITR is also adapting a commercial product to rapidly determine by PCR the number of surviving bacteria in the lungs of mice treated with new drug candidates, a first-of-its-kind endeavor for TB.

“With these efforts, we’re accelerating discovery and shortening our time to solutions that can help people in real, tangible ways,” says Franzblau, now in his 21st year with the ITR.

The ITR’s latest innovative project includes pulling samples from unique, often-overlooked sources with high bacterial competition to inform the discovery of new antibiotics. Working with the largest water reclamation plant in the world—the nearby Stickney Water Reclamation Plant—and collecting microbes from the surface of birds and birdbaths in conjunction with the Field Museum, the ITR is building its own novel microbial collection to screen for antibiotics active against TB and other bacterial infections.

“If we’re not pressing different buttons, especially in the world of antibiotic discovery, then we’re unlikely to discover anything new,” Franzblau says. “Given the great need for antibiotics around the world, innovation and creative thinking are absolutely critical.”

UICentre and the Office of Technology Management: The collaborative, complementary partners fueling drug discovery and development

2013+: University of Illinois Collaborative Engagement in Novel Therapeutic Research and Enterprise marshals multiple UIC resources to discover drugs to combat pressing medical needs with focus on oncology and neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases.

Since 2013, the University of Illinois Collaborative Engagement in Novel Therapeutic Research and Enterprise—or simply, the UICentre—has worked to harness the resourceful strength of faculty, including College of Pharmacy researchers, in pursuit of an ambitious aim: to discover drugs capable of combating some of the world’s most pressing and unmet medical needs.

High-risk, high-reward thinking fuels UICentre’s innovative work. As the critical first step in drug discovery, UIC researchers ask profound and imaginative questions while using cutting-edge tools, such as artificial intelligence and gene editing, to enhance drug discovery.

“Our researchers come up with potential drug targets to investigate, and it’s that work that puts everything else in motion,” Flavin says.

Thereafter, Flavin and his team leverage high-tech aides, such as crystallography, high-throughput screening, computing power, and modeling software, to accelerate discovery and propel translation. The UICentre team also oversees preclinical drug metabolism and pharmacokinetic studies.

By turning basic science projects into multifaceted, team-based drug discovery initiatives, the UICentre accelerates drug discovery, while also bringing valuable efficiencies and cost savings to bear in the laborious world of drug discovery.

“The process is to identify a disease target, understand the function of that target, find molecules to address the disease, and evaluate any additional desirable properties the compound might possess,” says Flavin, who succeeded UICentre’s founding director Dr. Greg Thatcher last fall. “We’re using all the cutting-edge tools necessary to move compelling compounds to market that turn off a disease process or turn on a process that ameliorates the disease.”

UICentre then collaborates with UIC’s Office of Technology Management (OTM) to protect intellectual property generated through its research program. The 15-year-old OTM is the campus outfit dedicated to commercializing research and technology coming out of UIC.

When faculty identify something innovative—often, novel chemical compositions or natural products impacting a therapeutic target in the case of pharmacy researchers—the OTM secures a disclosure form for the pharmacy laboratory team. That move jumpstarts the translational process. The OTM evaluates the invention for protectable intellectual property and commercial potential, including filing patents, before partnering the invention with industry for licensing and further development up to market launch.

“Our goal is to identify researchers’ compelling work as quickly as possible so that we are quickening the pace of innovation,” OTM director Suseelan Pookote says.

2001+: Office of Technology Management shepards innovations through intellectual property protections, to commercialization, to industry license partnering.

While the OTM works with colleges and departments across UIC, it maintains particularly strong ties to the College of Pharmacy and UICentre. In the OTM’s fiscal year 2020 Impact Report released in January, the office identified 16 disclosed technologies, nine patent filings, five successfully issued patents, and three licenses and options resulting from College of Pharmacy inventions.

“The College of Pharmacy is a medicinal chemistry powerhouse with aggressive and opportunistic researchers who are nimble and exploring innovation constantly,” says Nelson Grihalde, the OTM’s senior technology transfer coordinator.

2020: Dr. Donald Waller develops Phexxi, a nonhormonal vaginal gel contraceptive.

Over the last 15 years, the OTM helped Dr. Donald Waller’s contraceptive Phexxi gain FDA approval while it has propelled other promising therapeutics developed through UICentre into clinical trials, including two different breast cancer drugs initiated by College of Pharmacy professor Dr. Debra Tonetti and former faculty member Dr. Greg Thatcher as well as a drug for those with advanced refractory brain cancers developed by UICentre scientist and pharmaceutical sciences research professor Dr. Irina Gaisina. In addition, Tonetti, Thatcher, and Dr. Rui Xiong, PhD ’16, recently saw their breast cancer medication to minimize damage to the immune system and bone marrow from chemotherapy begin a phase 3 clinical trial.

When COVID-19 infiltrated America early in 2020, Drs. Xiong and Thatcher initiated a bold drug discovery campaign to stop the virus from replicating. The researchers invented a Covid PL-Pro Protease inhibitor in under 10 months, a significant achievement considering the limitations imposed by quarantine.

“The College of Pharmacy is filled with translationally minded researchers,” Pookote says. “They have a strong desire to see their results in the marketplace helping people, and our role is to help bring that innovation to light.”

Clinical Pharmacy: The College of Pharmacy’s trailblazing efforts in clinical care

1960s: Herb Carlin and Dr. Richard Hutchinson develop a clinical program that becomes a U.S. and international model, resulting in pharmacist oversight that prevent serious adverse effects from medications.

Led by Herb Carlin, pharmacy director at UIC from 1962 to 1972, and Dr. Richard Hutchinson, the founding head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, UIC transformed the pharmacist’s role to one that shoulders patient care responsibilities. In doing so, they developed a clinical program that became a model for others across the United States and, later, the world.

Spurred by the expansion of healthcare through Medicaid and Medicare in the 1960s, Carlin and Hutchinson both pulled pharmacists up from the basement and embedded them directly into operations to provide direct and immediate expertise in drug therapy.

Pharmacists began going on morning rounds, prepared IVs in satellite pharmacies located in various clinical areas, developed modern drug delivery systems, and founded the Drug Information Center at the University of Illinois Hospital to answer drug-related questions from nurses and doctors. Early clinical pharmacists at UIC also decentralized the unit-dose dispensing program that improved both patient safety and pharmacy revenue. In addition, the college established some of the nation’s first clinical-oriented course work as well as one of the first clinically focused pharmacy residency programs.

Though the reforms prompted initial pushback, including concern over allowing pharmacists to create notes in the patient’s chart, the value of having pharmacists actively involved in patient care soon became evident. More actively involved in patients’ drug therapy and in closer proximity to nurses and doctors, as well as the patients, pharmacists prevented serious adverse effects of medication on a near-daily basis. Their role on healthcare teams became not only valuable, but unassailable.

Quite simply, pharmacists on the floor saved lives and resources. In 1988, in fact, Hutchinson coauthored a report noting that clinical pharmacists saved the UIC Hospital an estimated $364,900 annually and made 36 interventions over a five-week span that preserved organ function or saved lives. Later research led by current UIC College of Pharmacy dean Dr. Glen Schumock reported that every dollar invested in the provision of clinical pharmacy services delivered more than $4 in benefits.

Over the last five decades, UIC’s pioneering work in clinical services has resulted in numerous publications, underscored the pharmacist’s knowledge base, and cultivated practice standards now followed around the globe. Still today, the college continues applying a creative, problem-solving ethos to its clinical services that further solidifies pharmacists’ immense value in the healthcare system.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Dr. Renee Petzel Gimbar, PharmD ’04, and her team of pharmacists in the UI Hospital Emergency Department crafted pragmatic, actionable solutions designed to ensure patient care and staff safety amid a persistent stream of patients into the ER and a largely unknown viral enemy.

“When so many others were running out, pharmacists were running into the building,” Gimbar says.

Pharmacists studied how patients were presenting, evaluated literature daily, provided on-the-spot education to providers informed by the latest insights, and devised an entirely new workflow and medication regimen, including switching from nebulized meds to single-patient inhalers. By directly managing patients and medications and communicating the latest information, pharmacists, including students and residents, helped to steady a turbulent ER environment.

“Things were changing so rapidly, so we doubled down on the basics of communication, including remaining present and close by,” Gimbar says. “We were at bedside and practicing at the top of our license to ensure patient care.”

Pharmacy Education: The College of Pharmacy’s leading role in experiential education and the PharmD degree

1984: UIC introduces CCO (Continuation Curricular Option) which offers students a path to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree while in professional practice, leading to the establishment of the PharmD, UIC’s exclusive professional degree, in 1988.

In the arena of pharmacy education, UIC has long been a cutting-edge leader, including its role as an early pioneer of clinical pharmacy education as well as the now ubiquitous PharmD degree.

Going back to the 1960s, the college consistently worked to expose students to patient care, then viewed as an emerging frontier in the pharmacy profession. Over the decades, UIC’s focus on clinical education intensified. As students took a more active role in patient care, they gained important skills while also discovering different professional pathways.

Today, UIC provides one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive pharmacy practice programs in the nation. The program features faculty practitioners in nearly all clinical specialties as well as preceptors in more than 900 diverse pharmacy practice sites.

The college also has also driven key changes in pharmacy studies and degrees.

In 1972, amid growing calls for personalized instruction in academia, UIC designed and implemented a selfdirected core pharmacy curriculum as an alternative pathway to the typical baccalaureate degree in pharmacy. With its focus on the needs of students and novel approaches to teaching, technology, and methods, the Investigational Program for Self-Directed Study (IPSDS) helped to reshape pharmacy education in the back end of the twentieth century.

Informed by the IPSDS program, the College of Pharmacy introduced the Continuation Curricular Option (CCO) in 1984. A professional, educational program for licensed pharmacists already holding a baccalaureate degree in pharmacy, the CCO offered students a direct path to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree while maintaining their professional practice. The CCO, in turn, prompted the college, then led by Dr. Henri Manasse, BS ’68, to establish the PharmD as its exclusive professional degree—among the nation’s first schools to take that novel step.

2018: Dr. Irina Gaisina develops a drug to treat advanced refractory brain cancer.

As one of the nation’s top-ranked pharmacy schools as well as the world’s standard-bearer for clinical pharmacy education, UIC has continually investigated ways to strengthen training and provide its students meaningful learning experiences that adapt to market forces and arm students with the skills they need to flourish in professional settings.

Consider the 2016 launch of Introductory Pharmacy Practice: Hospital (PHAR 413). The two-hour course for P1 and P2 students pairs in-class simulations with on-site hospital work at a foundational time in students’ academic journey. Over 16 weeks, students learn how to interpret a medication order, correctly compound an intravenous medication, verify the accuracy of a filled medication order prior to dispensing, and communicate —professionally and collaboratively—with members of a hospital team to ensure positive outcomes.

It serves yet another example of the progressive, practical training that cements UIC’s status as a leader in clinical pharmacy education.

“Early on in their studies, we’re getting students into the hospital and into the community, so they get an immediate and clear understanding of the pharmacist’s role, interprofessional team dynamics, and direct patient care,” says Dr. Tara Driscoll, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice who leads the PHAR 413 course alongside departmental colleague Dr. Marlowe Djuric Kachlic, PharmD ’05, and director of experiential education Dr. Allison Schriever, PharmD ’99.

Drug Discovery and Cancer Research Pavilion: The state-of-the-art facility designed to drive translational research

Innovation at the UIC College of Pharmacy will gain added steam next year with the completion of the Drug Discovery and Cancer Research Pavilion, an effort conducted in partnership with the UI Cancer Center, the Discovery Partners Institute, and the State of Illinois.

Coming 2022: State-of-the-art labs and facilities will bring industry partners, UIC researchers, and students/trainees together under one roof to pursue cutting-edge therapeutic development and discovery.

Featuring state-of-the-art labs and facilities, the pavilion will bring industry partners, UIC researchers, and students/trainees together under one roof to

drive pharmaceutical research as well as cutting-edge therapeutic development and discovery. While the pavilion will center much of its initial efforts in oncology, researchers will conduct investigative work in women’s health and infectious diseases as well.

The five-story pavilion, which will sit behind the College of Pharmacy building on Wood Street, will also house a 60,000-square foot technology park designed to stimulate public-private partnerships.

“This facility will provide us the infrastructure and collaborative environment to accelerate science, develop partnerships between industry and academia, and take the next innovative steps in our drug discovery history,” UIC College of Pharmacy dean Dr. Glen Schumock says.

In addition to facilitating ambitious drug-related research projects, the pavilion aims to drive workforce development as well. UIC students will be able to work alongside external partners to cultivate new skills and build professional relationships.

“This is truly a landmark building that brings academia and industry together for the common good,” Schumock says. “It will foster collaboration and support forwardthinking research programs capable of impacting lives in powerful, positive ways.”

2020: Drs. Rui Xiong and Greg Thatcher develop a COVID PL-Pro Protease inhibitor in just under 10 months—a significant advance in stopping viral replication.