This article first appeared in the PittPharmacy magazine.
As education adapts to engage student learners, courses incorporate application of concepts. In the past, the drug development course incorporated computer-simulated drug data and high fidelity mannequins as a part of course practica. A traditional course structure would involve a class of 114 student pharmacists sitting through various lectures and practicums as a large group.
Randy Smith, PhD, senior associate dean, volunteered to be the course coordinator for drug development in 2013 so he could lead the evolution of the drug development course from a series of lectures to a competitive simulation learning experience.
He engaged the team of graduate students and faculty that created the new approach allowing students to experience the wide variety of factors and data that go into creating a successful drug product. In the spring term of 2016, the new drug development course (PHARM 5119) taught by faculty members Lorin Grieve ’14 and Ravi Patel ’14 was introduced to students as a term-long game experience, referred to as RxPedition.
The software of RxPedition provides students to be split into 19 small groups. RxPedition was the result of a collaboration between the School of Pharmacy and Pitt’s School of Information Science (iSchool).
To create a game experience in the course, RxPedition treats each small group as a biotech startup. Each student has a specific role within each company from a research and development officer to the chief executive officer. The company’s goal is to review data from animal trials to take a fictional drug compound of interest, modeled after real compounds currently under study, through the various phases of research to earn FDA approval. Amidst these trials, each company must account for the various costs of research, request appropriate funding through grants and investors, and market their progress through FDA adherent guidelines.
As students progress in the drug development process, they must balance the cost, quality, and time required of each phase of research. Just as real companies experience failures in clinical trials during drug development, student trials are not always successful. Students review data derived from research to design their clinical trials. They then test these design in computer-simulated patient populations and high fidelity mannequins to learn the safety and outcomes of their trials. By eschewing traditional grades and examinations, RxPedition offers students the opportunity to design and redesign trials based on outcomes. While failed trials don’t lower grades, they incur time and money costs for which the companies must account.
Instructors take on a narrative role throughout the term to guide student learning. Instead of distributing grades, instructors act as investors to reward successes, hold students accountable for failure/learning, and make the experience fun. These trials, and the course, culminate with a presentation seeking approval from a mock panel comprised of faculty and, tentatively, FDA representatives. Through leveraging applied gaming principles, the drug development course at the School of Pharmacy is engaging learners and educators in a new process. “I think that the class is an excellent idea and has the potential to teach students a lot about the drug development process.”