In a clinical trial, the pharmacist’s job is both behind the scenes and central to the entire purpose of a clinical research facility. That job starts when Janyce Rogers and her pharmacy team first receive the potential medicine to be studied during a clinical trial at the PCRU.
“It usually comes to us as a powder, in large amber bottles,” Janyce explains. Working together in groups of three, the pharmacists begin to carefully compound the investigational medicine being studied.
They prepare, test, and ensure the correct strength of the study drug. Then they carefully count, measure, and distribute the doses.
“I think the comparison to making cookies is great, because that's what we do,” Janyce laughs. “Compounding - putting the material together - it is like baking, just in a little different environment. Much cleaner than a kitchen, and with lots of regulations.”
PCRU pharmacists compound and oversee the investigational medicine being studied. For most trials, Janyce and her team have weeks to prepare and complete all that work.
“That’s the most amazing thing - the potential for helping people around the world.”
Then the pandemic hit.
By February 2021, Pfizer scientists were working on a potential new medicine, an oral therapy against COVID-19 they hoped might help patients affected by the virus. The PCRU was selected as the most capable site to conduct a critical phase 1 clinical trial of the therapy.
The stakes were high for this study. And the timeline was unprecedented.
“For me, what was different was the speed,” Janyce says. “We took a picture of the box of material when it came in, around 4:00 PM,” she remembers. She and her team would need to stay late preparing doses for the next day. “It was really, “OK, now go!” she remembers.
And as the study expanded, so did the work. Weeks turned to months, fatigue began to set in.
“There were definitely moments of exhaustion, where you just wanted to cry,” she says. “But our team is really close-knit, we thrive on working well together and getting our work done.”
“We love working in the pharmacy,” Janyce says. “We love mixing and making - it’s fun!”
Not everyone is cut out to be a pharmacist. It requires years of schooling, and proficiency with math and formulas. The work can be both physically and mentally demanding, requiring intense focus and presence of mind for hours on end.
Another essential ingredient for a successful pharmacy? Teamwork, Janyce says.
“They don’t teach it to you in school, but that’s probably the most difficult part of the job,” Janyce says. “You need to be flexible, work together. We did, we had that dynamic. And we got to help progress a treatment - that’s a very positive emotional experience.”
“And really, that’s the most amazing thing - the potential for helping people around the world,” Janyce says. “We're just this small part. But it’s just incredible that we had this chance to be a part of it.”