Headshot of Professor Roseann S. Donnelly (Gammal), PharmD, BCPS
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MCPHS Professor Roseann S. Donnelly (Gammal), PharmD, BCPS on the Precision Medicine Graduate Certificate

Headshot of Professor Roseann S. Donnelly (Gammal), PharmD, BCPS

Roseann S. Donnelly (Gammal), PharmD, BCPS, a nationally recognized expert in pharmacogenomics and precision medicine, discusses the precision medicine graduate certificate.

We recently sat down with MCPHS faculty member Roseann S. Donnelly (Gammal), PharmD, BCPS, a nationally recognized expert in pharmacogenomics and precision medicine, to discuss the precision medicine graduate certificate. In the interview, Dr. Donnelly details her professional experience in precision medicine, the future of this treatment approach, the type of professional that would benefit most from obtaining this certificate, and what makes the MCPHS certificate unique compared to those at other universities.

Tell us about your professional experiences, particularly those related to precision medicine. What initially drove your interest in pharmacogenomics and this type of individualized treatment?

I am the co-founder and lead clinical pharmacist for the Pharmacogenomics Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is one of the first of its kind in the country. I work in collaboration with a medical geneticist and a genetic counselor. We are open to seeing any patient interested in pursuing pharmacogenomic testing or who may have already received testing elsewhere and is looking for expert interpretation of those results. I am also a member of the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium (CPIC), which is an international, interprofessional collaboration of clinicians and scientists who develop evidence-based guidelines for gene-drug associations that describe how clinicians can personalize drug selection and dosing based on genetics. I have authored several of these clinical guidelines, which are used worldwide to translate pharmacogenomics into clinical practice.

My interest in pharmacogenomics began in pharmacy school when the concept was introduced to us in class. The example involved the case of a pediatric patient with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who experienced life-threatening immunosuppression with normal doses of chemotherapy, a reaction that could have been predicted with a simple genetic test and prevented with a lower starting dose. I was fascinated by the prospect of individualizing treatment decisions based on genetic variation. It seemed like this was the future of medicine, and it appeared to be an exciting area for pharmacists to play a prominent role. This interest ultimately led me to pursue post-graduate training, including a pharmacy practice residency at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, followed by a specialty residency in Clinical Pharmacogenetics at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (St. Jude) in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude is a global leader in the clinical implementation of preemptive pharmacogenomic testing, so it was an amazing experience to train with some of the world leaders in the field.

What is the current state of precision medicine in the healthcare industry? How is it being applied in clinical settings?

Precision medicine has become a hot topic in recent years, largely driven by the launch of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015 (now called the “All of Us” research program). In many ways, clinicians have been trying to practice “precision medicine” for a long time by individualizing treatment decisions using unique patient factors such as age, organ function, concomitant medications, co-morbid conditions, etc. However, with the advancement of genomics accelerated by the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the rapidly decreasing cost of clinical genetic testing, we now have another tool to use to personalize treatment. There is certainly growing interest in, and use of, genomics in medicine, particularly in the field of oncology but in other areas as well. Pharmacogenomics is a key component of precision medicine that focuses on using genetic information to select and dose medications to maximize the likelihood of efficacy and minimize the likelihood of adverse effects. Many medical centers (and in some cases, pharmacies) have started—or are looking into starting—a clinical pharmacogenomics service. A key barrier to the widespread use of precision medicine and pharmacogenomics in practice is insufficient education and training for healthcare providers, which is why this certificate program is so important.

Where do you see precision medicine and pharmacogenomics heading in the future? What are the current and future career opportunities in this area?

I see precision medicine and pharmacogenomics continuing to grow in importance in healthcare. There is a lot of ongoing research in this space, which will lead to continued discoveries and new clinical applications. With pharmacogenomics in particular, there are new clinical guidelines for gene/drug associations published each year. I think we will see the field continue to move from a reactive model of testing to a more preemptive model, whereby patients will be tested for a panel of genes and then those results will be available over the course of the patient’s lifetime to guide their medication selection and dosing. In addition, patients are interested in their genetic information—you don’t need to look further than the popularity of direct-to-consumer genetic tests to see that. I think patients will play a significant role in driving precision medicine and pharmacogenomics forward by asking questions of their healthcare providers about the utility of genetic testing for their care and bringing providers their genetic test results to interpret. Not many clinicians have formal training in precision medicine and pharmacogenomics, so obtaining additional credentials in this area to complement your current areas of expertise could lead to exciting new career possibilities in clinical practice, industry, research, and academia, including integrating pharmacogenomics into your current clinical practice, leading a system-wide precision medicine program, and engaging in precision medicine-related research.

What type of professional would benefit most from this graduate certificate, and how can they benefit?

This certificate is designed for both current and future healthcare professionals who are looking to enhance their knowledge in precision medicine and pharmacogenomics. Any healthcare provider who prescribes or manages patients’ medication regimens could certainly benefit from in-depth instruction in the use of pharmacogenomics to personalize pharmacotherapy decisions. Genomic medicine in general is becoming increasingly important in clinical practice, so obtaining core foundational knowledge in genetics as well as learning about the latest clinical applications will lead to a deeper understanding of this ever-evolving area and could open doors to related career opportunities.

What makes this graduate certificate unique compared to other certificates that are offered by other programs throughout the United States?

This graduate certificate is a unique collaboration between faculty experts in precision medicine and pharmacogenomics from MCPHS University and Harvard Medical School. The certificate offers an interdisciplinary approach, as the faculty and students come from several disciplines. With respect to the content, the certificate provides a strong foundation in genomics, including pharmacogenomics, and real-world applications are integrated throughout. In addition to providing expert instruction in the foundational science and the clinical applications, this certificate program also delves into the ethical, legal, and social implications of precision medicine—an important aspect of this field that other programs might not cover. Lastly, the 100% online approach provides the necessary flexibility needed for working professionals and full-time students, with courses offered year-round.

Explore our Precision Medicine Certificate.