Student Wellness opens Investigational Drug Service

New service aids UNLV researchers and community members with chronic illness.

The UNLV Student Health Center Pharmacy is joining an elite list of healthcare providers participating in investigational drug trials.

The new status is an essential step for research at UNLV, but it also provides an important lifeline for patients in the Las Vegas area who need access to drugs that are not yet fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s really exciting when we talk about the potential of improving the quality of life for patients living with chronic and debilitating medical conditions,” said Kathy Underwood, executive director of the Student Health Center and Faculty and Staff Treatment (FAST) Center. “Participating in drug studies and having access to investigational medications often offers these individuals an opportunity to relieve distressing and painful symptoms and spend more time enjoying life with their loved ones.”

Pharmacist Mary Simon was integral to UNLV receiving approval to participate in investigational drug trials. 2/23/21 (Lonnie Timmons III/UNLV Photo Services)

Preparing to offer an Investigational Drug Service on the UNLV campus took more than two years. Though the Student Health Center Pharmacy is licensed and nationally accredited to provide pharmacy services, offering an Investigational Drug Service demanded close consultation with the Nevada Board of Pharmacy as well as a pharmacy consulting firm experienced in developing an Investigational Drug Service.

“We were contacted by the Office of Research Integrity several years ago, which identified an opportunity for us to assist in clinical drug trials,” said Mary Simon, the senior pharmacist in the Student Health Center Pharmacy. “Of course, we wanted to assist, but preparing to offer a safe and effective Investigational Drug Service was a process that required significant time and resources.”

The UNLV Student Health Center Pharmacy is the first Investigational Drug Service in Nevada not operating within a hospital. It joins a small list of university health center pharmacies in the country participating in this type of research.

Gaining this designation required investments in additional staff, equipment to house the investigational medications, and the creation and approval of new policies and procedures for the Pharmacy.

 “This designation speaks to the quality of our Student Health Center,” said Jamie Davidson, associate vice president for Student Wellness. “The fact that we have staff of this caliber who can provide this type of consultation and support for complicated research speaks to the level of service and expertise we have within the Student Health Center.” 

The Student Health Center is considering offers from researchers now as it prepares for its first drug trial. Healthcare providers on campus and in the community will identify patients who may be good candidates for the trials and will refer them to the principal investigator of a study to assess if they are eligible to participate. Though some patients may be students, the patient pool will be much more representative of the Las Vegas community as a whole.

“Our focus is to support faculty researchers of UNLV, and many patients will be from the general community,” Simon said.

The Student Health Center staff say they are excited to contribute to what could be ground-breaking research just as UNLV’s medical school is reaching full steam.

“It’s essential that UNLV has access to an Investigational Drug Service because now, with the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, and also with other academic areas, a priority of the UNLV research agenda is to increase research involving clinical drug trials,” Davidson said. 

The Student Health Center falls under the Division of Student Affairs. Though Student Affairs is a key contributor to student retention and graduation, the division’s contributions to research may be less obvious. 

“So many times, people forget the role that Student Affairs plays in research,” Davidson said. “Whether it’s through Counseling and Psychological Services, the Student Health Center/FAST Center, or now with the Investigational Drug Service in our pharmacy, we contribute to UNLV’s research agenda in many key ways.”

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