By: Michael Cronin, Pharm.D. Candidate c/o 2014
The Drug Information Association (DIA) student chapter at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences began in March of 2012 to provide a local forum for cultivating awareness of opportunities within the pharmaceutical industry among doctor of pharmacy and allied health professions candidates. Within two months of its inception, the group grew quickly and was able to host several well-attended meetings and informational sessions. In May, I and ten other students traveled to Philadelphia for the DIA 2012 Annual Meeting to learn about current events within the pharmaceutical industry and network with like-minded students and healthcare professionals. As a global pharmaceutical organization, DIA serves as a neutral forum for drug researchers and developers, government officials, and employees of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies to meet, debate, and exchange information. This year’s conference was aptly entitled “Collaborate to Innovate”.
For first-time students, the DIA annual conference could be intimidating. The sheer size of the meeting, combined with the realization of how many people come from all over the globe to take part in the event, could leave one at a loss for words. The flawless planning and execution of the conference was incredible. The opening plenary session displayed more than just enchanting music from a local orchestra or the inspiring words of Dean Kamen, the brilliant inventor responsible for the Segway®. It displayed the worldwide scale of DIA, as well as what the organization does to improve public health around the globe. Along with my fellow students, at first I felt more than a bit out of place in the new, grand environment.
Fortunately, it was apparent from the beginning that DIA is also committed to student involvement. Programming was geared directly toward students and first-time attendees: there were student forums and “speed networking,” which made us more comfortable during the meeting. Our uneasy feelings soon dissipated. Once I found my voice and footing, as well as learned to keep up with all of the new acronyms, the conference became an opportunity like none other.
The various sessions and content provided a snapshot of where the pharmaceutical industry is presently and where it is heading in the future. Gaining insight into the ongoing dynamics, as well as the politics between regulatory personnel working for pharmaceutical companies and government officials at Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) [the branch of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of drug approvals], was most beneficial. This dynamic was highlighted at the conference, which took place at a remarkably appropriate time. There was much focus placed on the fact that while the conference proceeded, the Supreme Court was ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Senate was preparing to vote on the Prescription Drug User Fee Act V (PDUFA V).
While monumental decisions were being made in Washington, DC, presenters at the conference spoke about regulatory issues and literally were uncertain of these federal decisions. A prime example of this laid in a discussion on the regulatory framework for the development and approval of biosimilars (the provision for biosimilar development is included within the ACA). Since there was a legitimate chance that, within the next few days, part or all of the ACA would be declared unconstitutional (and subsequently struck down), all informational sessions on biosimilars came with the same basic disclaimer. They stated that, tomorrow, all of this progress may be irrelevant, and the push to bring biosimilars to the market in the United States would have to start from scratch.
The underlying subplot of the conference came to a head at the CDER town hall meeting (on the last day). The Supreme Court made the ruling while individuals asked the CDER panel questions. Midway through the meeting, we learned that the act was upheld. Many in the audience cheered while others let the more staunch supporters of the ACA have their day in the sun. All of those present calculated the implications of the ruling.
The dramatic scene made a fitting conclusion to the entire meeting for me. This was the living and breathing DIA that I was hoping to see when I went to Philadelphia. The experience superseded all of my expectations. It was amazing to have taken part in such a monumental occasion and to have had the opportunity to witness it firsthand. To my fellow students at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, if you are interested in the pharmaceutical industry, I encourage you to use DIA as an avenue to explore your career aspirations. For more information about programming planned for the upcoming fall semester (or on how to join DIA), please email: [email protected].