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VCU School of Pharmacy opens new program to meet Virginia’s drug manufacturing needs

Graduate student Asma Al-Terawi operates equipment in a pharmaceutical sciences lab.
Brad Kutner, Radio IQ
Graduate student Asma Al-Terawi operates equipment in a pharmaceutical sciences lab.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into Virginia to support a new drug manufacturing sector in and around Petersburg. And Virginia Commonwealth University is hoping to provide a pipeline of new employees in those operations.

Graduate student Matthew Fernandez is fiddling with a plate reader, a gray cube that allows you to look at the effect of a drug on cell toxicity. It allows him to make different formulations to mimic other drugs and then implement them in new drugs.

“We’ll look at the brightness. The more living cells the brighter it will be,” he tells Radio IQ over the whirring of his testing machine.

Fernandez isn’t part of the new program at VCU, but those who are interested in helping make medicines in Virginia’s fledgling pharmaceutical businesses will be tasked with similar tests once the school’s new Pharmaceutical Sciences degree opens this fall.

“There’s a strong need to think differently about how we manufacture medications and the Commonwealth in particular, I believe, for manufacturing not just in the state but across the country,” said VCU school of Pharmacy Dean K.C. Ogbonna.

Ogbonna said the new program will be the first of its kind for a public college in Virginia and he hopes, along with Professor Sandro da Rocha, it will meet the skyrocketing demand for new employees.

And da Rocha hopes he’ll be able to apply innovative techniques, like nano medicines, he’s helped develop in the wake of COVID-era MRNA vaccine development.

“We’ll be able to prepare students for what’s coming, not what’s there today only,” da Rocha said.

The new Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences degree opens in the fall with applications being accepted now.

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