Student in lab with mask handles pink pills.
VCU’s doctoral new program in pharmaceutical engineering will focus on research and training students in drug product development. (Getty Images)

State approves nation’s first Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical engineering

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Virginia Commonwealth University will be home to the nation’s first Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical engineering.

The doctoral program, a collaboration between VCU’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering, will focus on research and training students in areas of drug product development such as continuous manufacturing and drug-containing nanomaterials.

VCU received formal notice last week of the program’s approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

“As a nationally prominent research institution, VCU is proud to lead the next wave of pharmaceutical innovation,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “I am grateful to SCHEV for its support of this program and for recognizing how it can benefit the commonwealth and the world.”

The doctoral program will start its first class in the fall of 2020. Its multidisciplinary curriculum will offer students unique professional development opportunities and will cover advanced topics in the field, experimental techniques and scientific integrity, along with extensive directed and independent cross-disciplinary research.

“Our mission is to provide a student-centric, collaborative and team-based experience for our students. We will prepare the future generation of science and engineering leaders who can act in the pharmaceutical industry as well as in regulatory areas and academic settings,” said Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and professor of pharmaceutics.

“By training scientists in better delivery systems and new medicines and therapies, we intend to find ways to treat complex diseases, even ones that have been considered untreatable.”

Pharmaceutical engineering and sciences make up key components of the $1.2 trillion pharmaceutical industry. It is a convergent branch of science and engineering that uses a cross-disciplinary approach to design, develop and manufacture pharmaceutical products. Some examples include:

  • Applying materials science and engineering to the development of drug delivery carriers and devices.
  • Applying nanoscience and nanotechnology to medicine.
  • Developing new technologies for the manufacture of chemicals and biologically active ingredients.
  • Using computer science and engineering to model processes, harvest and analyze data for the design, discovery and manufacture of active ingredients.
  • Using engineering and physiology for the development of new devices and formulations.
  • Designing and manufacturing novel formulations for specific delivery profiles.

“The doctoral program in pharmaceutical engineering continues VCU’s advance to a nationally recognized hub for entrepreneurial research and drug delivery, development and manufacturing,” said Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences in the College of Engineering and a professor of chemical and life science engineering.

Historically, investment in the development of new medicines has focused on research more than on product delivery and manufacturing. In recent years, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has encouraged innovations in delivery systems such as nanomedicine and improvements in manufacturing processes to help ensure that patients get the medicines they need safely and effectively.

“The VCU School of Pharmacy has always prepared professionals for the health care needs of the future,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the pharmacy school and the Archie O. McCalley Chair. “This new Ph.D. program supports that mission, and cements VCU’s status as a groundbreaker in health-related education in ways that have visible and powerful effects on our communities.”

Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering, said, “With the creation of the pharmaceutical engineering Ph.D. program, VCU is seeking to become a national leader in the education of the pharmaceutical workforce of today and innovators leading future developments. The program will address the growing need for a new generation of researchers trained in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science who recognize the need for a team-based approach to solving challenges related to the design and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.”

Learn more about the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences at