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We need to upgrade ourselves | Prof Raghuram Rao Akkinepally

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How is NIPER, as a premier pharma education institute in India, encouraging adoption of industry best practices, providing intensive hands-on training, enabling compliance regulatory guidelines and ensuring high quality standards of medicines?

The pharmaceutical sector holds the centre stage of the healthcare system in providing therapeutic agents for treatment of patients in various disease areas. While producing medicines at affordable prices to the citizens is an important aspect and the quality of the medicines is the most critical issue. NIPER S.A.S. Nagar works on both these aspects – developing novel low-cost formulations as well as analysis of impurities in drugs. NIPER S.A.S. Nagar was envisaged and established with the very objective of providing leadership in pharma education and research. I am happy that we secured 1st position in NIRF ranking in 2018 among all the pharmacy institutes in the country. The Academic model of NIPER S.A.S. Nagar allows it to update its curriculum continuously as per recent advances in the field as well as the current requirements of the industry. The syllabus is based on an inter-disciplinarily approach and NIPER S.A.S. Nagar has been very much attentive to provide due support to the pharma sector in imparting advanced level education and training to its graduating Masters’ and Doctoral students. Many of them have joined pharma industries within the country and abroad. The best practices as applicable to pharma industry are being inculcated through class room instructions by appropriate structuring of the courses of study. In addition to the structured curriculum, the students are free to attend audit courses. Apart from basic science courses, those with relevance to industry, are taught considering the regulatory requirements and hence ICH and FDA/ EMA/ WHO guidelines are regularly referred to during teaching. We have highly qualified and trained faculty, who have been working with, and even guiding and training the industry in understanding the national and international regulatory requirements. In addition to didactic lectures, the institute has created dedicated centres for advanced analytical techniques, impurity profiling, standardisation and profiling of herbal products, centre for regulatory toxicology, biopharmaceuticals etc. on which students get a chance of hands-on training during all semesters of their Masters’ programme. Small and Medium Pharmaceutical Industries Centre (SMPIC) of institute aims at creating commercial synergy between industry and academia, and for furthering the spirit of cooperation. We also focus a lot on sensitising the students on the current difficulties being faced by industry in terms of audit inspections and issue of 483s and warning letters, and highlight the need for immaculate working and requirement of utmost integrity once they join industry.

What are the steps needed to rejuvenate our pharmacy education system in India?

Traditionally the pharmacy education in the country has been underestimated as the means to supply technical manpower to the pharma industry. This trend had been duly recognised by the peers (both from industry and academia) of pharma education and research of the country that ultimately gave birth to NIPER S.A.S. Nagar. Thus the philosophy of education and research at NIPER S.A.S. Nagar is to build a strong knowledge base and impart technical skill to its students and scientists with due emphasis to the fundamentals in the areas of chemical, biological, and pharma disciplines so that the students passed out from NIPER not merely lend technical support to pharma sector, they are also groomed as the future teacher and leaders of pharma education and research and become thinkers and innovators. There is still dual control of pharmacy education by PCI and AICTE, though we see some progress in the two organisations talking to each other to resolve the issues. Also, often the voice is raised with respect to single ministry handling all the affairs related to pharmacy, including education. The clarity on these will come in due course. What is immediately needed is to be more stringent on quality of instructions and training being provided by institutions by having stronger regulatory framework. Apart from this, there is a need to realign the whole curriculum to include some of the newer topics that make part of 4th Industrial revolution. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent convocation address at IIT Mumbai exhorted the institutions to improve the quality of graduates and specifically mentioned that students need to be made aware of IT broadband technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, big data analysis or machine learning. In addition, many other newer concepts like modeling and simulation, personalised/ precision medicines, automation and robotics, continuous manufacturing, six sigma, lean manufacturing, quality by design, process analytical technologies, etc. are already playing a big role in drug discovery, development and manufacturing. In addition, the regulatory landscape is changing every day and more and more stringent requirements are being put in place. Therefore, it is big responsibility of governing bodies to revise curriculum on regular basis, and even offer significant flexibility to good institutions to devise their own academic curricula to include cutting edge aspects.

Can you elaborate on the role of pharma teacher-leaders in creating an innovative ecosystem?

Practically, we have very few pharma teacher-leaders in the country today, who themselves have excelled and have helped in creating an innovative ecosystem in pharma sciences, and left a mark at the global level. The situation is same in the industry, where leaders are now realising that their further growth story will be complete only by inculcating innovation and quality. Faculty members of biological sciences have initiated many innovative projects in target identification and validation and drug discovery. This has been possible with collaborative efforts with national and international institutes as well as the biotech industry. Of course, the teachers in academic institutions, who shape the young minds, need to work hard to adopt innovation as a culture in institutions and encourage the same. There is a strong need to promote the culture of innovation. I am happy that NIPER S.A.S. Nagar has realised that the future lies in increasing the pace of innovation, and since I have joined, I have taken some concrete steps and have started the NIPER Innovation Award (NIA-2018) where faculty, staff and student community can submit their creative technological and design ideas in the form of a proposal.

What is your message for your fellow teachers and the sector?

To my fellow teachers in the pharma sector, I would urge that adopting a continuous upgradation of teaching methodologies/practices keeping pace with the  global advancements is essential. We teachers in pharma education need to see beyond our narrow domains and holistically look into what our industry and profession expects from our output – the students. So every effort should be made for improving their quality by focusing on rightful education and training. Also, we shall simultaneously pay emphasis on skill development, which at present is largely poor. The students wish to enter the challenging future with a high degree of confidence, and expect that institutions prepare them for it. So we have a big role, and hence before we accept greetings on September 5th from our students, we need to take a resolve to upgrade and update ourselves in all possible ways.

Happy Teachers Day, dear colleagues!
Jai Hind!

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