UI Develops Drugs, Dosages For Clinical Studies

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Nanoparticles deliver life-saving drugs to the body, tablets go down easily with a film coating, and a nasal spray delivers vaccines. Behind each product is the work of a member from the University of Iowa Pharmaceuticals Development Consortium.

Pharmaceutics faculty members in the UI College of Pharmacy -- Dale Eric Wurster, Doug Flanagan and Lee Kirsch -- developed the consortium concept a few years ago. With the approval of Donald Letendre, college dean, and Maureen Donovan, interim head of the Division of Pharmaceutics, they established the consortium in January, formalizing the relationship between pharmaceutics faculty and UI Pharmaceuticals in the UI College of Pharmacy.

The consortium expands the capabilities of UI Pharmaceuticals to develop new drugs and dosage forms for industrial, governmental and academic contractors.

The consortium is generally not involved with the drug discovery stage of drug development, said Mick Wells, Ph.D., (photo, left) director of UI Pharmaceuticals. Instead, as part of the next step, it provides the facilities and experts for testing drugs and fine-tuning the formulas for a variety of dosage forms.

"A drug's active ingredient may take up only a small percentage of a given dosage form. We can characterize this drug and add other chemicals, such as those that ensure the product is delivered correctly in the body or those that maintain the product's shelf life," Wells said. "After that, UI Pharmaceuticals can manufacture these products for human clinical trials."

With advanced technology and extensive experience, the UI development consortium and UI Pharmaceuticals serve a variety of clients. The largest are government agencies or have names flashing across the NASDAQ or NYSE screens. The smallest may consist of an enterprising pair of scientists.

"Most of our clients are small pharmaceutical companies," Wells said. "They don't have the facilities or staff, which are expensive, so they hire us."


Before heading the company, Wells worked as a manager of strategic technologies for the multinational research and drug development giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Wells returned to the UI last year to direct the college's Division of Pharmaceutical Services. In March 2008, the service merged with the UI Center for Advanced Drug Development to form UI Pharmaceuticals in order to better serve customers. The UI Pharmaceuticals Development Consortium was the final step in formalizing the synergy with pharmaceutics faculty.

Both the Division of Pharmaceutical Services and the Center for Advanced Drug Development were already well established in their own right.

The division has been lauded as the most experienced university-affiliated drug manufacturing facility registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The group has turned out products for more than 30 years. On average, each member of the senior scientific staff has 20 years' background in drug research.

The Center for Advanced Drug Development, established in 1992, complemented the Division of Pharmaceutical Services by increasing the analytical power of the UI's services, Wells said. Operating out of the UI Research Park, scientists at the center characterized drugs, developed analytical methods, and did stability testing on dosage forms.

The fully merged UI Pharmaceuticals now employs more than 70 full-time workers. They work from 24,000 square feet of office and lab space at the UI College of Pharmacy on the west side of campus and 6,000 square feet of space at the UI Research Park.

Although developing products for clients is a priority, the UI Pharmaceuticals Development Consortium also provides a chance for pharmaceutics graduate students to be involved in a real industrial project, which enhances their learning experience at the College of Pharmacy. The students also have the support of the consortium and UI Pharmaceuticals scientists -- faculty or adjunct faculty from the College of Pharmacy who act as their mentors.

For Wells, the appeal of working in the UI Pharmaceuticals Development Consortium is working with other pharmaceutics faculty and the brisk pace of developing and manufacturing drugs for clients.

"At the end of the day, we want to deliver your drug in an effective, stable dosage form and in a timely manner," Wells said.