Pharmacy education in India Is it future ready?

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As the pharma industry continues to evolve, pharmacy education in the country will have to transform itself to help India Pharma Inc leverage emerging opportunities and nullify the challenges. Leaders and experts reflect on the strategies needed to bring about this metamorphosis

Pharmacy education has a major role to play in the the progress of the pharma sector. Yet, in India, it is entangled in several issues. One of the major issues is the implementation of the right courses as academic programmes are structurally not organised to meet industry expectations. This has resulted in a large number of vacancies in the organised sector along with a high rate of unemployment among the skilled category.

Understanding the criticality of the issue, Express Pharma spoke to industry experts to find out how these issues can be resolved.

The topic was also addressed at the recently held FDD Conclave organised by Express Pharma. An expert panel discussed the various challenges faced by the sector due to qualitative and quantitative paucity of talent and the role of academic
institutions in creating better talent in terms of quality and quantity.

Right talent pool

In the recent years, we have seen a lot of pharmacy colleges mushrooming across the country, especially in rural India. However, a constant lament is that students from many from these institutes lack exposure due to an outmoded curriculum changes and various other factors. So, how can we ensure that we create the right talent pool which is industry-ready?

Dr Amelia M Avachat

Dr Amelia M Avachat

Dr Amelia M Avachat, Professor, Department of Pharmaceutics, Sinhgad College of Pharmacy points out, “It is not that we don’t have the right talent pool but the main problem is lack of exposure. Students belonging to rural areas have never seen a pharmacy college in their life and upgrading the talent pool remains a big challenge.”

Stressing on the urgent need to create the right talent pool via the academia route, Roop Krishen Khar (KILAM), Professor & Principal, BS Anangpuria Institute of Pharmacy, says, “The talent pool can be created by focussing and shortlisting pharmacy academic institutions in different regions of the country on the basis of their academic and research

Roop Krishen Khar (KILAM)

Roop Krishen Khar (KILAM)

outcomes and identifying their industrial partners in respective regions in the first place. Academic staff can move to industry on short-term sabbaticals from time to time and get trained in accordance with industrial needs. Industrial experts can be formally aligned with the academic institutions in different capacity, which can be mutually worked out. This can set a chain of activities together which will include, the process of curriculum changes, sharing of expertise and many others.”

Pointing out the reasons for lack of skill-based training at the academic level, Dr Arun Garg, Dean, SMAS KR Mangalam University, highlights, “The quality of education in Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) approved diploma colleges is a concern because most of the institutes provide education through distance mode/non-attending mode. This prevents student from learning necessary practical skills expected by the community/hospital/industry. Hands-on training in any course is the necessary gap that needs to be urgently bridged so a student can understand the value and essence of the programme he/she is undertaking. It also helps a candidate analyse his/her role to play as a pharmacist in the society.”

However, with regulatory reforms and technology upgradation happening at a fast pace, creating a niche number of talents for QbD, dissolution, patent search, IVIVC, pellet manufacturing, bioavailability and bio-equivalency testing, dossier preparation and filing, seems to be a challenging task for pharma institutes.

Nevertheless, the problem can be resolved, provided a thorough and rigorous screening process is undertaken, recommend some experts. Khar replies, “In under graduate courses, students should be directed to develop some practical skills in various areas of pharma technology, which can finally assist them to develop professionally in future. At present, we can see the potential impact of the outdated syllabus on the current industrial needs. With new technologies and regulations in place, the requirement for change in pharmacy education curriculum cannot be neglected. Hence, perfect courses and guidance should be provided to students, which will assist them to move in the direction of professional development.”

Upgrading the syllabus

The current syllabus followed in pharmacy colleges, as per the industry experts, is outdated.This, in turn, has taken a toll on nurturing the right talent. With advancements in pharma technology, students, alongwith, industry stakeholders should remain updated on the current scenario.

Khar points out that the outdated pharmacy syllabus is affecting industrial growth and there has been a large hue and cry to revise the syllabus, however, nothing much has happened on this front.

Dr Avachat talks about the required changes in pharmacy education and says, “The syllabus lacks in-depth study of excipients. Flexibility in syllabus can be in the form
of electives designed by the industry and academia during the first or final year of PG studies or final year of UG level and can be need-based as per industry requirements.”

She continues, “The elements of the course have become outdated and provide no or little interaction with the status and growth of the pharma industry. It becomes necessary to follow the rapid and continuous changes in pharma industry, which makes academia-industry interaction a necessity. The curriculum should be revamped to have more case study or actual practical-based syllabus. This would require inputs from the industry during the point of framing of syllabus. Practicals need to be designed based on problems encountered by the industry during the product development process, right from pre-formulation stage to regulatory filing.”

Pointing out that there is a complete disconnect between theoretical education and its application in practice, Dr Avachat says that there is an urgent need to bridge the gap. She also lists down a few points that needs to be considered to bridge the gap.

These include:

  • How much theory is connected to industrial practice or pharmacy practice or to other requirements at the place of work?
  • In what way is the ‘theory’ connected with ‘practical’ work?
  • What is the real outcome of theoretical training? Can’t it be translated into some tangible outcomes?
  • We need to understand and be very clear about as to which basic concepts have been imparted or strengthened by theoretical courses. Can these be actually documented or measured?
  • Which specific skills have you been able to impart through the practicals attached to the theory course included in the syllabus?
  • What are the specific applications or outcomes?
  • How do you connect the basic concepts and the skills imparted? What is their actual application in industry/ market/work place etc?
  • Can all these be documented or quantified, in order to highlight the achievements and the added value to the knowledge body acquired in this manner?
  • How many times you give an opportunity to the students to give a feedback so as to whether he has understood the concepts or skills imparted by you?
  • Can these facilities be effectively used by opting for initial R&D work of formulation development to be carried out in such type of institutions? She also says that this can be done mutually by the pharma industry and the academic institutions together. It could turn out to be a win – win situation.

She highlights that this could be a dynamic and a continuous process as per the needs and requirements.

Dr Mahesh D Burande

Dr Mahesh D Burande

Agreeing with Dr Avachat’s idea of involving representatives from pharma companies in the process of revising pharma curriculum, Dr Mahesh D Burande, Director, Institute of Pharmaceutical Education & Research, Pune says, “All companies should devote at least one person from their company and form a committee and this committee with the chairman should suggest the syllabus for M.Pharm. It should have a problem-solving approach and the process needs to be repeated every three years. Top 50 academicians in the country should come together to work with this committee to implement the revised syllabus. Initially, 50 per cent upgradation in syllabus is required but later 20 per cent is required every three years. This will give the industry the right talent pool.”

Dr Burande further says, “We have around 10000 pharma companies in the
organised sector and more than 500 pharma companies have their formulation development department while less than 50 companies are involved in basic research and drug development. To attract the talent, if all companies come together and conduct innovative research conclave every year and select the best 100 students with a starting salary of `50000 per month, we can attract the best students in R&D for formulation development and drug delivery.”

Innovation drives drug delivery

Innovation in drug delivery method is the future of Indian pharma industry and pharmacy course structure in India mainly consists of two facets of profession: patient (pharmacy practice) and product (industrial pharmacy)-oriented pharmacy
in different proportions together. However, this approach didn’t witness much success as the course structure for practising pharmacy is not relevant to the requirements of an industry and vice-versa.

Even after having more than 700 pharmacy colleges which offers M.Pharm every year and 15000 students passing out from these colleges looking for a career in R&D have suffered at the behest of quantity, Dr Avachat informs, “On one hand, the number of colleges imparting B.Pharm and M.Pharm have mushroomed to an exorbitant number over the last 10 years while on the other hand the quality of students has suffered at the behest of quantity. This has completely skewed the demand-supply ratio as there is no dearth of students who major in pharmaceutics (branch dealing with F&D and drug delivery). Besides this, the F&D work in industry may not match with what is done in the academics. For example, research in academics is mainly happening in areas like nanotechnology while that is not so in the industry.”

Dr Avachat chalks down the following suggestions to expand India’s talent pool in F&D:

a. Every M Pharm. Pharmaceutics project can be guided by people from the F&D of the Pharma industry available in the local area.

b. After thorough screening by a panel of academicians and industry select students can be made to do an industrial internship in F&D and later on be absorbed by the same industry.

c. Novel ideas in the development of drug delivery till the level of proof of concept can be initiated and developed in the academia and then can be taken up by the interested industry partners.

d. Long-term projects can be given to academics or can be jointly taken by both industry and academics so that the students can get to work in the academic set up but under the guidance of industry.

e. The main problem facing academics is procuring funds, so the industry can donate some of their instruments or equipment so that the students can be well equipped and skilled before they join the industry

f. ‘Train and Hire’ system can be adopted

Avachat informs that since the last 25-30 years, the first choice of a student desirous of doing his post graduate is pharmaceutics as it is the only subject where you don’t find a parallel in any other course taught throughout the world. She suggests how to encourage student in opting formulation and development as a career choice and lead the Indian pharma industry to the next level.

She says, “It is not that students are forced to take up a programme leading to
formulation and development (F&D). It is only the lack of industrial exposure which
is the main setback which students face during their programme.”

Most of the institutes have the capability to develop novel drug delivery methods, however, due to unavailability of funds and opportunities, most of the ideas die in the beginning itself.

Dr N Udupa

Dr N Udupa

As Dr N Udupa, Professor and Research Director (Health Sciences), Manipal Academy of Higher Education suggests, “Pharma companies willing to develop their drug delivery research centres should come forward to collaborate with highly ranked pharma institutions to train talented students and in collaboration should conduct and explore joint research projects in drug delivery. They should bring out novel patents and technology transfer should take place in right time as per future needs.”

Volume to value

To move from volume to value, we need to find an answer to the questions whether we have skilled talent available within the industry. We also need to create an ecosystem which appreciates and acknowledges quality and excellence. Our
experts have diverse views on achieving this objective.

Khar too feels that government should work together in creating an ecosystem which encourages innovation right from the academic level.

Burande opines, “Volume to value is a great mission. If we publish a successful story and give respect to contributors with academy-industry collaboration, everybody will think of the output with quality. We have to create certain standards to measure the effectiveness of such associations, then only we can progress towards value addition. This will encourage many colleges and industries to go for collaboration.”

Khar opines, “The industry can make their own assessments and identify talented students/staff from the academic institutions from time to time and work on short and long-term projects. Students and staff can be given incentives in the form of some rewards or scholarships. This will also initiate specific and relevant projects that are applicative and translational in nature.”

Smoothing the path for talented freshers whose knowledge is in line with the industry requirements will also lead to encouraging value. Khar informs, “Even after 4000 students passing out from B.Pharm institutes, the industry was unable to recruit them as they lacked experience. Hence, it becomes the responsibility of educational institutions to make students updated on the knowledge in the respective subjects. Students have enough time and are highly motivated but lack skillful knowledge and directions which are essential to work on the true problems and their solutions.” While informing about the existing opportunities in private and governmental institutions, Khar says, “There are huge infrastructural facilities available with private and governmental institutions which remain underutilised and unutilised to their full capacity. This is a great loss to the exchequer.”

Government’s initiatives

Fortunately, recognising the need for an overhaul in the education system and build a talent pool, the government too is introducing measures to meet this goal. For instance, the Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC), has been established by and for the life sciences sector in India, to address the skill gaps across functional areas and levels in the sector, by helping to generate a sustained stream of high quality skilled individuals.

Ranjit Madan

Ranjit Madan

Ranjit Madan, CEO, LSSSDC, informs about the steps required to been taken by LSSSDC jointly with DCG(I), MoH&FW. Madan says, “GoI has been working with a great focus on the quality of pharma products served to the common man in India. LSSSDC by now has engaged 64 industry houses for their existing workforce, skill assessment and certification with an objective to evaluate the current skill sets with employees in manufacturing units and standardising the skill set. This has been driven by LSSSDC to implement an advisory circular released by DCG(I), CDSCO, MoH&FW in August 2016.”

Madan further elaborates and says, “LSSSDC has joined hands with Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Karnataka Biotechnology & Information Technology Services (KBITs) and many other reputed universities for utilising their expertise and align them with the industry to enable a faster throughput for industry needs in terms of skilled resources.”

However, the industry feels that there is a lot more that the government can do to
promote and improve education and skill building for the pharmacy sector in the country. Khar suggests, “The government needs to draw out priorities for the next three to five years and align with the industry with specific objectives relevant to the country and according to the context of the new environment. Funding provided by government agencies can be directed on such projects of national importance in order to make a match with the industry. All such projects should have commercial value so that the industry is attracted to pursue them.”

Burande is in favour of government’s support and suggests an action plan. He says, “If the government decides to encourage innovation, I think right from the graduation level, we should start subjects on innovation and R&D. Certain funds should be provided to such colleges where R&D cell has been established with minimum infrastructure and ask colleges to solve problems through students of small scale pharma industries. A separate person besides the regular teacher with
industrial experience should be appointed for such work and the government should pay him 50 per cent salary to lead this cell. Students who are interested in going to R&D, after proper counselling should be taken in this cell right from the first year of the pharmacy course and these students, under the leadership of such teachers, should devote time besides their regular study to develop themselves as future R&D managers.”

Going forward

Pharmacy education in India needs to be at par with global standards, where students armed with all required expertise, can grow up the career ladder. This can be achieved only if industry and academia come on a single platform for a better tomorrow.

u.sharma@expressindia.com