Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos’ Installation Remarks

Remarks by Vassilios Papadopoulos at his installation as the dean of USC Mann, November 1, 2016.

Thank you, President Nikias, for that generous introduction. It is an honor to lead USC Mann and to join this great university.

Under your extraordinary leadership, USC’s reputation for excellence continues to grow — and your ambitious vision for this university is an inspiration.

My appreciation also goes to Provost Michael Quick, whose name is truly apt. The speed at which you think and act is remarkable, and I look forward to working together.

To my fellow deans and the senior administration: Thank you for welcoming me to the Trojan Family. You have already made me feel at home.

Along with the entire school, I am indebted to the USC Board of Trustees and USC Mann Board of Councilors for your advice and generosity in furthering our academic mission.

I would like to acknowledge the members of QSAD Centurion and the Alumni Association, many of whom are here today. Your continued support is critically important to the school’s future.

I am also grateful to the school’s talented staff members — those who are here today and those who are hard at work in their offices and labs.

This school attracts many of the best and brightest, and their lifelong commitment to learning and to this institution is exemplary.

I especially want to recognize the school’s faculty, whose dedication to our students, our community, and our field is admirable. Your professionalism and scholarship have helped sustain and expand the school’s reputation for leadership while improving the lives of people everywhere.

To my wife, Dr. Martine Culty, thank you for being a constant supporter both at home and at work, for reminding me every day that what we do improves peoples’ lives. You also never let me forget that pushing for excellence and furthering a dream to create the best place on earth must go hand in hand with people’s needs and the realities of our environment.

Finally, thanks to our three sons who graciously accepted a lifestyle guided by our work.

On behalf of my family, I sincerely thank the Trojan Family for the warm welcome we have received. I am pleased to have our families join together.

Why USC?

Since my official arrival at USC — one month ago today — I am often asked: Why USC?

I have lived in Athens, Paris, Sydney, Washington D.C., and Montreal. To be frank, I had never previously considered the West Coast, but USC has a way of expanding your thinking and opening possibilities.

What I kept hearing about USC was that it was rapidly on the rise by every measure. The university is on an undeniable upward trajectory. It’s a bold and exciting place, accomplishing major advances at an impressive speed.

USC’s leadership has a clear and dynamic vision for the university’s future and the impact it can have on the world.

USC is a global leader, well-positioned on the Pacific Rim, and with offices and alumni around the world.

It is a private university, with the flexibility to be nimble and entrepreneurial.

Then there is the ambitious — and impressive — Campaign for USC. $5.6 billion has already been raised — $1.7 billion of that just for the health sciences, not to mention that the university has recruited numerous visionary leaders across the biosciences.

USC clearly values innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. The university is investing in its health sciences enterprise, breaking new ground and forging a distinctive path.

This is also a collegial and welcoming environment, where the Trojan Family is not just legendary, but very real.

For me, personally, I wanted to come to a place that was strong but where I could make an impact. A home where I could build upon the research and teaching I’ve done but where I could take on a new challenge.

You heard President Nikias enumerate a few of the school’s strengths — from pioneering new educational and clinical programs that are now standard nationwide to our partnership in the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, which has quickly become a leading force in that arena.

To name a few examples of the groundbreaking, translational, and impactful research performed at the school, one can think of:

  • the collaboration with NASA on the adaptation of radiation-resistant fungi in space, which could lead to new radioprotective compounds;
  • the development of chemistry-driven technologies for studying biological processes;
  • the effort to identify therapeutic targets against bacterial virulence;
  • the investigation of the role of proto-oncogenes in the development of fatty liver disease;
  • the use of genomic information to identify novel cancer targets;
  • the targeting of chronic inflammation to treat neurodegeneration and traumatic brain injury;
  • the identification of mitochondrial therapeutic targets for various diseases;
  • the optimization of pharmacologic therapies to preserve lung function; and
  • the use of pharmacogenomics in psychiatry

Many of our faculty provide major clinical service at Keck Hospital, Norris, L.A. County and USC, Children’s Hospital, and other USC-affiliated clinics, working on cardiovascular disease and diabetes management, helping high-risk patients with multiple chronic diseases, offering patient care in hematology/oncology and stem cell transplantation, treating patients with psychiatric illnesses, defining pain management, understanding geriatrics, and working on pediatric pharmacotherapy, just to name a few.

Our faculty’s work expands beyond fundamental, translational, and clinical research to population research. They investigate the economics of risks to health, medical innovation, and the organization of healthcare markets. They explore economic analysis and policy for various treatments, Medicare, and drug benefit plans. They assess technology, competitive pricing systems, and mental health economics. They also examine how interventions and policy changes affect incidence, diagnosis, and treatment of chronic conditions.

The school ranks #9 in the nation and is the top private pharmacy school. Our location on a major health sciences campus fosters innovative collaborative research, clinical, and educational opportunities. And the school’s work in the safety net is already a national model.

So where do we go from here?

How can we place the school on an upward trajectory at every level?

With 111 years of history, USC Mann is the oldest in Southern California — and remains the most innovative. Yet, in California, we face increasing competition from new pharmacy schools. I view this as an opportunity.

Our graduates leave prepared to play leadership roles in the profession. This is a real distinction from newer schools. However, we must increase awareness and visibility for the school’s unique role.

Our location in Los Angeles is another enormous advantage we must leverage more fully. USC should be viewed as a national — and even international — school of pharmacy. We will focus on attracting increasing numbers of top students from across the country and around the world, as well as those representing a diverse range of backgrounds.

We will continue to enhance learning outcomes for our PharmD, master’s, and PhD students. We will expand collaborative education initiatives across USC’s health sciences disciplines — as well as other academic units, such as USC Dornsife’s life sciences programs, the USC Marshall School of Business, the USC Price School of Public Policy, the USC Gould School of Law, and numerous others.

The time is ripe to expand job placement opportunities for our graduates by enhancing the school’s integration with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and by promoting a wider range of options in such areas as government and regulatory affairs, environmental organizations, and beyond.

We will encourage our students to dream big, and we will continue building a pipeline to pharmacy education for undergraduate and high school students.

We now offer undergraduate courses on the University Park Campus for students interested in health-related careers. They can now take courses in pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, and toxicology. They are learning about the growing opioid epidemic and the regulatory process for introducing and pricing new breakthrough drugs and devices. These courses are especially exciting because they operate at the intersection of science, law, finance, and policy.

We will continue our longstanding affiliation with the Science, Technology and Research (STAR) Program, which for more than 25 years has offered first-generation college-bound high school students the opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship of some of the school’s — and the university’s — top investigators.

USC Mann is known for boldly pioneering degrees and educational initiatives, such as regulatory science and healthcare decision analysis. As we move forward, we will not rest on our laurels but will continue to meet the growing needs of this dynamic field with innovative curricula and training.

Medical research is at a crossroads. The spectacular success of modern biology, the growing convergence of genomics, chemistry, and medicine, and society’s rising expectations for rapid translation of scientific results into tangible healthcare benefits require novel approaches. With this in mind, the school has tremendous growth potential.

A number of our faculty already conduct cutting-edge research in laboratories, clinics, and society while influencing healthcare policy. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to the impact this school can have on many of the most complex challenges of the 21st century.

But before we can take off, we need to bring our efforts to the next level. This can only happen by, first, enriching our human capital — recruitment of talented faculty and the best and brightest students — and, second, by providing state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Thinking long term, we must consider some of the major changes/challenges in biomedical research, clinical practice, and health outcomes research that will affect how we educate the next generation:

(i) the transformation of descriptive sciences to information sciences,

(ii) the integration of biology, population, and social sciences,

(iii) the reality that the distance between a nucleotide and an organism has dramatically decreased,

(iv) that diseases are dynamic and not static states of health, and

(v) the early intervention of regulation, policy, and socioeconomic impact on drug discovery and development

We live in an era in which technology is driving the questions in biology and medicine rather than the other way around. All this happens at such a great speed that we have difficulty comprehending, following, adjusting, and even developing metrics to assess outcomes and policies to implement changes. These changes are part of a more complicated ecosystem in which economic impact intertwines with discovery and practices.

Looking ahead, the field of pharmacy and the school in particular need to fully harness the capacity of big data — not only to improve the quality of care for patients, but also to fuel the discovery of new drugs for a host of conditions. We now have the map of the human genome and are close to realizing the map of the epigenome responsive to environmental and drug exposures as well as lifestyle changes. Advances in genomics and precision medicine enable therapy that is customized like a fingerprint to an individual’s unique genetic makeup and disease state.

USC is already on the front lines of this revolution. Leading the way, President Nikias has unveiled a visionary plan for a new Biotechnology Park adjacent to our Health Sciences Campus. The school is well-poised to play a key role in these efforts.

We will forge new partnerships with the stellar faculty in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the USC Dornsife College, and take advantage of USC’s Center for High-Performance Computing. Opening next year, the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience will disrupt the barriers between disciplines, and accelerate discoveries from the bench to the bedside. We also have the opportunity to expand the school’s historic research strengths into new areas of exploration, such as health risks triggered by nutrition and environmental pollutants.

We also must consider the economic and policy issues relating to new discoveries. A breakthrough in early detection of Alzheimer’s, for instance, brings with it a host of legal and ethical concerns. How do health-monitoring devices potentially affect health insurance and privacy? How do we ensure value in healthcare?

Our Department of Pharmaceutical and Health Economics and the USC Schaeffer Center — in which we partner with the USC Price School of Public Policy — play a vital role in addressing these issues and many others. The center provides leadership to policymakers in how to walk the fine line between fair pricing of generic drugs to maintaining incentives for pharmaceutical innovation. In today’s complex healthcare environment, the Schaeffer Center’s work is more crucial than ever.

Clinical pharmacists are poised to play an increasingly important role in direct patient engagement. Pharmacists provide effective preventive care services and serve as the healthcare team’s experts in medication management, adherence, and safety. Specialized programs and clinics held in pharmacies are changing the landscape and job descriptions of future pharmacists. Let’s ensure we have the right curriculum to train those who will drive preventive medicine and serve on the front lines of improving patient outcomes.

Our Titus Family Department of Clinical Pharmacy partnered with the Schaeffer Center on a landmark, $12 million grant from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to integrate clinical pharmacy services into Southern California safety-net clinics. Some 6,000 patients with chronic diseases benefited from the pilot study, averaging a 16.2 percent reduction in cholesterol and 22 percent reduction in blood-sugar levels. USC serves as a national model in this effort. We intend to continue and expand the school’s work in the safety net, helping people not only in our Southern California communities but also patients everywhere.

Today, we enjoy better education, housing, medicine, and information. We live longer with healthier lives. Diseases that were once terminal are now chronic. But we continue to live in an era of economic inequality and uncertainty, with millions living in poverty. What can the school do to change this? What can we do to make our world better?

The school has a global footprint with research and educational collaborations around the world. We will build upon this foundation to become a leading international school. Can we help institute change in countries where the healthcare ecosystem is limited or non-existent? I think it is our social responsibility to try.

For decades, the school has offered services to marginalized neighborhoods. Just a few months ago, one of our faculty members took a group of PharmD students to an isolated village in Romania. We heard how this experience changed our students’ lives and how their efforts improved the lives of people who aren’t as lucky as we are. We are planning similar trips to Colombia, Cambodia, and Uganda.

Final thoughts

That expanded capacity brings me to the final thoughts I want to share with you today — the importance of generating support for an institution like USC Mann.

When a faculty member comes to me with a radical idea — a novel approach that could be transformative for science and for the university — I want to be able to provide the support to pursue that notion. Like our students, I want our faculty to dream big. How can we develop new treatments for infectious diseases? How can we reverse the effects of neurodegenerative disorders? How can we prevent the onset of diabetes? Can we devise a simple blood test to detect cancer before it spreads? Can we accurately predict the efficacy of a drug?

I want to empower faculty — and students — to focus on what they need to succeed in advancing the frontiers of pharmacy.

So please come to me with those daring ideas. From fundamental investigations to translational research, and from clinical innovations to health outcomes and policy efforts, what we do is dream together. As with all scientific endeavors, not every dream is fulfilled. But those that do become reality can make the world a better place.

Let’s dream together.