A photo of five people wearing white lab coats, clear safety glasses, and blue latex gloves standing around a table.
Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., (right) who will serve as the inaugural director of the new B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences program, and his students inspect a medication as part of quality assurance testing in a lab at VCU School of Pharmacy. (Mary Kate Brogan/VCU School of Pharmacy)

VCU will offer a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences that can help address medication shortages

Amid the nationwide need for skilled workers and Virginia’s growing life sciences industry, the VCU School of Pharmacy program will enroll its first undergraduate class this fall.

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Virginia Commonwealth University will begin offering a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences in fall 2024, making it the first public university in Virginia to offer this program to undergraduate students.

The Bachelor of Science in pharmaceutical sciences program at the VCU School of Pharmacy will equip students with the skills and knowledge needed for careers in the pharmaceutical industry, developing medications, therapies and treatments that will help Virginia and the U.S. prevent medication shortages regionally and nationally.

“In a time when medication shortages have disrupted the lives of millions, we’re committed to solutions that will empower patients to lead longer, healthier lives – and that starts with educating students who are ready to take on the challenges of drug development,” said K.C. Ogbonna, Pharm.D., dean of the VCU School of Pharmacy. “Welcoming the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists at the undergraduate level who can meet Virginia’s pharmaceutical sciences workforce needs gets us closer to increasing medication access and improving health for all.”

VCU’s program was recently approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The first class will enroll this fall.

“As a Top 20 pharmacy school at a university that houses the nation’s first Ph.D. in pharmaceutical engineering program and the only Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences in Virginia, we’re in an ideal position to prepare students for careers as problem-solvers for the challenges facing the pharmaceutical and biotech industry,” Ogbonna said. “Our students will be leading the next wave of scientists equipped to increase access to medication and treatment options, which will improve people’s quality of life.”

In recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has been responsible for the rapid creation and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. However, supply chain and manufacturing quality issues as recent as April 2024 have made some other medications more challenging for patients to obtain. As of May 7, there are more than 110 active medication shortages, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA cites quality in pharmaceutical sciences manufacturing as a key to ensuring that the medication and drug supply is consistently meeting demand. Virginia has been a major player in bringing the pharmaceutical sciences industry back to the U.S. to stabilize the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the state is poised to continue that growth.

But according to a 2021 Deloitte Insights report on U.S. workforce trends from 2020-30, 53 in 100 positions in pharmaceutical sciences requiring a bachelor’s degree are expected to be difficult to fill due to lack of qualified talent, and 2.1 million out of 4 million jobs in the pharmaceutical industry are expected to go unfilled by 2030.

In Virginia, where growth in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries continue, that need is projected to be high. Virginia-based jobs posted in 2023-24 that included a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences as a qualification included scientist, quality assurance technician, materials scientist, research technologist and laboratory technician, among others. For occupations with these titles, the Virginia Department of Workforce Development and Advancement is projecting 5-8% job growth through 2030. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ analysis of projected job growth, occupations projected to grow more than 2.8% from 2022-32 are considered to be growing faster than average for all occupations.

“There is not enough supply of skilled workers to meet the current workforce demands in the pharmaceutical industry, and that demand for talent continues to grow,” said professor Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., director of pharmaceutical engineering in the School of Pharmacy at VCU who will serve as inaugural director of the B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences program. “Our bachelor’s program will bridge these workforce gaps and help Virginia’s pharmaceutical industry continue to expand by graduating students that are ready to launch into fulfilling and good-paying careers.”

Graduates of the program will be prepared to seek entry-level positions in the life sciences industry, research and development companies, service laboratories and government agencies. They will also be well-prepared to pursue graduate education and advanced studies in the health professions.

“This program will be an ideal fit for students who are interested in majoring in pre-health and STEM,” da Rocha said. “Students will learn how to formulate vaccines or design new methods of treating cancer. Our faculty have been leading in education and research for the past 125 years and are doing the discovery, development, delivery and optimization of drug products that moves health care forward.”

Undergraduate students will learn from the award-winning educators and leading scientists in the field who teach VCU School of Pharmacy graduate and professional students in VCU’s Ph.D. in pharmaceutical engineeringM.S. and Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences and Pharm.D. programs.

“As a pharmaceutical scientist, you will be able to take pride in knowing that, at the end of every workday, you will have contributed to a noble goal: preserving and restoring human health,” da Rocha said. “By using your skills to support projects aimed at uncovering the causes and advancing the treatments for diseases that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions, you will be making a real difference.”

The in-person bachelor’s program consists of 120 credit hours and can be completed in four years full time.

Applications for fall 2025 are due Jan. 16, 2025. For more information about admissions, visit the B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences program website.