Pharmacist-Scientists in Industry and Academia

Author: Christopher J. Molloy, PhD, RPh

Christopher J.
Molloy, PhD, RPh

Dr. Molloy is dean and professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway.

"So, Chris, maybe you can explain to me what exactly a dean of pharmacy does?" This was the response of a senior vice president at Johnson & Johnson when I told him in late 2007 that I would be leaving my position as the research leader in inflammation and pulmonary diseases to rejoin Rutgers University (my pharmacy degree and PhD were from Rutgers). It was a good question, as my group had recently advanced several new compounds into human clinical/preclinical trials and we were on a bit of a "roll." Because of the many challenges in drug discovery and development today, however, and the evolving business environment in pharmaceutical health care, I viewed my offer to move back to academia as an opportunity to tackle many of these issues from a much different and complementary perspective. I also relished the chance to be involved in the education of the next generation of pharmacists.

A degree in pharmacy opens many doors and exciting career trajectories. When I began my career in independent community pharmacy back in the 1970s, I had no idea that within a decade I would obtain a PhD and multiple opportunities in cellular and molecular pharmacology research. I was able to return to graduate school and supplement my income with part-time pharmacy jobs as well as a teaching assistantship. Following graduate school and a rewarding postdoctoral research position at the National Cancer Institute, my background as a pharmacist-scientist offered many job opportunities. Pharmacist-scientists are especially valued in the biopharmaceutical industry, where prior clinical pharmacy experience allows them to apply their broad knowledge of available pharmacotherapeutics to identify the key unmet clinical targets that are the starting points for modern drug development.

The environment for pharmacist-scientists has evolved significantly in the past decade, as drug development costs, regulatory demands, and health economic issues have challenged the pharmaceutical industry. Expanded education and policy engagement increasingly led by nonpartisan academic centers is needed. Accordingly, there are new opportunities for industrial pharmacist-scientists to return to academia, and for the "industry?academia equilibrium" to be better balanced. Overall, I think the future remains bright but evolving for pharmacists who choose to work in industry. Advanced training, in the sciences or other disciplines, allows for opportunities that could span both industrial and academic pharmacy. My advice to any young pharmacist is: explore your options—so many exist, and our dynamic health care industry needs them all.