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Boehringer Ingelheim partners with University to create master’s program

by Jennifer Huber - February 26, 2007

Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Ridgefield has committed $180,000 over the next three years to co-develop a pilot master’s degree program in synthetic organic chemistry with the University.

As part of the partnership, the company will support six research assistantships for master’s degree candidates enrolled in the chemistry department; work with UConn faculty to co-develop and teach a new experiential course in pharmaceutical research; and host capstone six-month internships to provide real-world training for future employment.

“The ultimate goal of this pilot program is to demonstrate the benefit of having an industry/academic collaboration and eventually train more highly skilled scientists,” says Chris Senanayake, vice president, chemical development department at Boehringer.

“We believe that UConn is well-equipped to pilot such an exciting program.”

The pilot program, supported by a gift to the University of Connecticut Foundation Inc., is designed to build on Connecticut’s strong pharmaceutical industry and fill an unmet need for highly educated and expertly trained synthetic organic chemists.

More than 18,000 workers in the state are employed by pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and bioscience corporations, according to Connecticut United for Research Excellence (www.curenet.org).

One critical shortage area is master’s degree-level chemists to drive bench work in drug discovery and development, says chemistry professor Amy Howell.

“On the whole, companies would prefer to hire M.S. candidates, because their practical experience and training are broader,” Howell says.

“However, because support is limited, the pool of M.S. candidates tends to be small.”

Senanayake says, “Pharmaceutical companies need chemists at both Ph.D. and master’s levels for their efforts to develop innovative therapeutic agents. However, most universities in the U.S. do not have formal graduate programs to train master’s chemists in organic synthesis with special emphasis on process chemistry or discovery chemistry. As a consequence, it is hard to find highly qualified master’s candidates with a desire to work in the pharmaceutical chemistry arena.”

Adds Howell, “What makes this program exceptional is that Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals has stepped in at this stage to demonstrate that members of Connecticut’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry can be an active part of the solution.”

The program will enable UConn to guarantee support for the most promising students. Support, which is traditionally prioritized for Ph.D. students, is a key factor in being able to recruit top master’s degree students, Howell says.

The employment rate within Connecticut for students who graduate from this program is expected to be extremely high.

“This is a tailored master’s program that will provide advanced course work, intensive research in organic synthesis, and on-the-job training,” Howell says.

“Students completing this course will be highly sought after because of their exceptional background.”

The commitment from Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals follows a $1.25 million gift in 2006 to establish the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. Chair in Mechanistic Toxicology and a $250,000 gift in 2004 to support and name the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. Dosage Forms Laboratory in the School of Pharmacy.

“This further adds to the company’s previous strategic commitments in supporting a mechanistic toxicology chair and formulation development laboratory in the School of Pharmacy,” says Peter Farina, senior vice president for development at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

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