Pharmacist Appreciation


Tim Whitten, BSPharm, MBA, CEO & President of Taiho Oncology Inc discusses the critical impacts of pharmacists across the health care landscape.


I’m Tim Whitten. I’m the president and CEO [chief executive officer] of Taiho Oncology. We’re a subsidiary of Taiho Pharmaceutical Co, which has its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Taiho Pharmaceutical Co is a subsidiary of Otsuka Holdings, which also has its headquarters in Japan. It’s a large multinational pharmaceutical and nutritional company. I basically run the European and North American operations. Our focus is on the development and commercialization of oncology compounds. In the United States, we have 3 approved oral oncology agents and multiple compounds in global development.

How did you start your pharmacy career? How did you reach the position you’re in today?

After receiving my pharmacy degree from West Virginia University, I practiced in several retail and clinical settings for about 3 years. I became a little disenchanted with that. I went back to university and earned a master of business administration from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. With those 2 degrees, I went into the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, and I’ve spent about 30 years in multiple jobs. I’ve had close to 20 positions over that 30-year career. I started out in big pharmaceutical companies, then went to small start-ups and biotech. Since then, I’ve stayed primarily in small to medium pharmaceutical biotech companies.

I’ve been in public and private companies. I’ve been a CEO at 3 companies. Most of my therapeutic focus has been on oncology and orphan diseases, but I’ve also had experience in many other therapeutic diseases. I’m very appreciative of the career that I’ve been able to have. I’m very appreciative of the dedicated, knowledgeable, and talented teams that I’ve worked with over time, and those experiences. It’s been a great career. Most important, I’ve been inspired, challenged, and humbled by patients to work hard and work smart to bring new medications to the forefront so that patients who are working hard to live with very serious diseases, such as cancer, can benefit from them.

In your own words, what is the value of pharmacist involvement in health care?

The value that pharmacists bring to health care depends on the setting. There’s a variety of answers, but let’s [focus on] the traditional retail-hospital-clinic setting. Pharmacists can bring value there in multiple ways. They can bring value to patients, caregivers, and other health care professionals. They can impact the health care system by providing very cost efficient and effective care.

In the retail or hospital setting, pharmacists have typically focused on filling and dispensing prescriptions and providing counseling to patients on adverse effects, what to expect, and the importance of the patient staying on their medication. More recently, they’ve been involved in screening and treatment. It’s no longer just recommendations for minor ailments using an over-the-counter product. Especially during the pandemic, pharmacists have played a vital role in administering the COVID-19 vaccines. Now, many patients probably get other vaccines—the flu or shingles vaccines—through the pharmacy. A lot of patients don’t have to go to the physician’s office and wait anymore. Another value in that setting is they help patients, save them time, and [offer] a very effective and efficient way to administer different vaccines.

There are other settings where pharmacists can add value in a different way than they do in the traditional retail or hospital setting. These are largely unexplored by pharmacists, pharmacy students, and schools. Some examples of these settings include the pharmaceutical industry, as well as managed care, government policy, and even working for the FDA. There are so many other exciting opportunities for pharmacists to utilize their pharmacy and PharmD degrees, even combining that pharmacy or PharmD degree with other degrees, whether it’s an MBA or a degree in law, engineering, or health policy. Then you expand those opportunities further. The only potential disadvantage to these types of careers is that you have less daily face-to-face patient time. But these career opportunities allow pharmacists to add value in a much broader, different, and very direct way of improving patients’ lives.

How has the role of the pharmacist evolved over time?

The pharmacist’s role has evolved over time. It depends a lot on the setting. There are many answers to that question, but let’s [focus on] the traditional retail or hospital pharmacy role. When I started, I filled and dispensed prescriptions. I had the occasional chance to counsel patients on taking their medication, the adverse effects they might experience, and the potential drug-drug interactions. I was involved in giving over-the-counter recommendations for minor ailments. But that role has expanded as the health care system has expanded and become more complex. Pharmacists are much more involved in screening, education, and treatment, as I mentioned with vaccines.

But more patients are going to start getting their prescriptions filled—especially for their chronic medications—through other channels, such as mail order. With artificial intelligence and robotics—you’re already seeing this today—there’s going to be less need for pharmacists in those settings. You’re going to see them play supervisory roles. That’s why it’s important for pharmacists to become aware of other careers and career opportunities in other settings. It will be interesting to see how that role continues to evolve.

What roles do pharmacists occupy at Taiho? What is the value of pharmacists in industry?

Pharmacists can occupy many roles at Taiho and in the industry in general. There may be too many to mention. When you combine a pharmacy or PharmD degree with other degrees, whether it’s an MBA or a degree in law, public policy, or engineering, those opportunities expand. At Taiho, we have a dozen departments and many positions within those departments [that pharmacists are qualified for]. It’s almost a laundry list. A few examples include clinical development, clinical operations, medical affairs, scientific publications within medical affairs, and medical science liaisons. In regulatory, there are opportunities for pharmacists to work with the FDA on getting drugs developed or even in a compliance role. They also apply on the commercial side in marketing, market research, sales, and new product planning. There are so many roles that pharmacists can play at Taiho and in the industry in general.

When you think about the future, how would you like to see pharmacists’ roles evolve?

I’m almost agnostic regarding how I’d like to see pharmacists’ roles evolve over time. It doesn’t matter to me. What’s more important is that pharmacists who are early in their careers and coming out of school become aware of the nontraditional roles they can play and other ways in which they can add value to patient care. They can add a tremendous amount of value, have a wonderful career, and do a lot of things, whether that’s working in the industry, with managed care, in public policy, for insurance companies, or even for the FDA.

We all need to take responsibility, especially for pharmacists in school and early in their careers, and make them aware of these exciting and dynamic opportunities. I challenge pharmacy schools, pharmacy associations, and people like myself to do a better job of helping students and pharmacists become aware of those opportunities and understand what those opportunities are, because I didn’t coming out of school. It wasn’t taught. I didn’t have an opportunity to do a rotation through any of those settings. I challenge schools to do a better job of communicating the ways pharmacists can add value to the system beyond the traditional hospital-retail-clinic setting.

These other settings allow a pharmacist to have an impact on thousands if not tens of thousands of patients over their career. Pharmacists have a terrific education, and many—maybe most—don’t get the value out of that education. They could if they looked at nontraditional roles that they can play. That’s of financial value to them, and value to the health care system and patients. Pharmacists already in nontraditional roles have a responsibility to inform students and sometimes schools and associations about these alternative careers. There are a lot of choices that pharmacists can make, and the earlier they make those choices, the better off they’ll be.

In closing, I believe a pharmacy or PharmD degree is wonderful, and it sets you up for a purpose-based career. To me, a purpose-based career is the best type of career. It’s focused on the why, and it’s focused on others. It’s not focused on the what. I encourage anyone viewing this video who isn’t familiar with some of these alternative careers to seek out people who are already in these careers—from your school, or from the association—to learn more about them. It may not be for you, but at least you’ll know, and you could make good choices so that you can have a purpose-based career focused on patient care.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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