Medications have always fascinated Javier Barrios Herrera: “How a small pill in the palm of your hand can literally save somebody’s life.” Now, even before graduating from the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy, Herrera and a classmate have been published in a nationally recognized academic journal to help in the treatment of the life-threatening endocrine disorder Cushing’s disease.
Led by Dr. John A. Dougherty, associate professor of pharmacy practice, Herrera and fellow fourth-year pharmacy student Divya Desai researched data on the efficacy and safety of osilodrostat, a new drug for treating Cushing’s disease. Their study, published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, will help medical professionals as they consider using the drug with their patients.
For both Herrera and Desai, it was their first research publication, the result of many weeks of study to fill a gap in the pharmaceutical literature.
“We pored through all the clinical information available about this drug,” said Herrera. “We analyzed and compiled the information into a paper, so that whenever medical professionals want to learn about this product, they can just go straight to our paper and learn about not only the disease state, but also about the drug and how it works and the different clinical trials.”
The team studied a dozen or so 100-plus-page FDA documents. And then came the hardest task, said Desai, “to condense your knowledge in a way that people will understand and appreciate.” That condensing and writing offered a special challenge for Cuban native Herrera, because English is not his first language.
“Sometimes I think we set our own boundaries and we can be our own worst critic,” Herrera said. “And doing a project like this, and to be able to come out on top and be published, proved to me that we really have to push ourselves when we sometimes think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ But we did it! So it taught me to be more optimistic and seek out opportunities that I maybe never thought I could handle.”
Herrera and Desai are to graduate in May. Herrera has been very involved in advocating pharmacy issues before state legislators and members of Congress. After graduation he hopes to complete a residency and eventually become a hospital administrator.
Desai has won a drug information fellowship with Purdue University. She’ll work with Purdue colleagues and also with experts in the FDA and the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. After that, she said, “I’m kind of open to anything, just waiting for more opportunities so I can work hard and see where it leads me.”
Meanwhile, Desai is grateful for how the research project helped her hone important skills such as working in a team and communicating effectively to inform the public. “These are skills that can be used anywhere,” she said.
Both students praised Dougherty for his leadership and expertise. “Without him we would have been lost,” said Desai.
As Dougherty worked with Desai and Herrera, he also led a second team of successful student researchers: Justin Wagner and Megan Stanton. Their project on a new drug for peanut allergy also was published in the same academic journal.
“The Annals of Pharmacotherapy is one of the nation’s leading, peer-reviewed journals for clinical drug therapy issues,” said Dr. Jeff Lewis, dean of the Gregory School of Pharmacy. “It is one of the most-referenced and relied-upon journals by clinical pharmacists across the U.S., and it is always encouraging when a member of our faculty is published therein. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Dougherty’s mentoring collaboration with these outstanding students.”
“I’m very thankful for our mentors,” said Desai. “I know all my professors and they all know me. They email me and they encourage me. If you want a small school experience where the professors care and are willing to go above and beyond to make sure you are successful, PBA is the place for you.”