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Pharmaceutical Research Computing Names New Executive Director

Dr. Ebere Onukwugha to succeed recently retired faculty member Dr. Ilene Zuckerman as director of one of the School’s major research centers.

By Malissa Carroll
January 9, 2014

C. Daniel Mullins, PhD, professor and interim chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, has named Ebere Onukwugha, MS, PhD, assistant professor in PHSR, as the new executive director of the School’s Pharmaceutical Research Computing (PRC) center. This announcement follows the recent retirement of the center’s previous director, Ilene Zuckerman, PharmD, PhD, former professor and chair of PHSR.

“The School of Pharmacy will be forever grateful to Dr. Zuckerman for her tireless efforts to ensure the continued growth and success of this valuable research center,” says Mullins. “However, I am confident that, as chair of the PRC Advisory Committee for the past year, Dr. Onukwugha will work just as diligently to build upon the center’s previous achievements and ensure that it remains innovative, competitive, and responsive to the ever-changing needs of researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and beyond.”

Zuckerman and her colleagues first saw a need in the 1990s for a dedicated computing center that could meet the increased data warehousing, project management, and statistical analysis needs of faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and other researchers at the University. After receiving approval from the School, Zuckerman established PRC in 1998, to support innovative projects with a demonstrated impact on national health policy.

“Before PRC was established, the department only had one server that was maintained by one faculty member and one staff member,” recalls Zuckerman. “Now, we have an ‘institutional memory.’ There is a shared set of capabilities and resources, so no researcher is dependent upon the skills or expertise of a particular staff member or programmer. All projects are well-documented and staff members are cross-trained to ensure that the work will get done even if somebody leaves the School or gets sick.”

Initially established with only two clients – the Maryland Drug Use Review Program and Pennsylvania Medicaid — PRC has exponentially expanded its customer base, collaborating on studies funded by numerous federal and state government agencies, non-profit foundations, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations from both the public and private sector. It was one of the first research centers to work with prescription drug data collected by Medicare Part D.

“PRC is not a repetitive, ‘number crunch’ research center. Our staff strive to ensure that each project receives individualized attention,” says Zuckerman.

PRC works with researchers to construct analytic files from large, secondary data files such as administrative claims and electronic health records. Though its staff members are primarily skilled in the fields of information technology, statistics, and computer programming, Zuckerman – a pharmacist by training – also recognized an important attributes her profession could bring to the center and made every effort to leverage the benefit of pharmacists’ expertise to analyze drug data.

“PRC boasts a group of remarkable staff members, which really speaks to the success of the center,” says Zuckerman. “But one of its unique strengths comes from including pharmacists as part of its team. Their clinical expertise in pharmacotherapeutics, knowledge of reference files, and understanding of research methodology provides important contributions to study design, operationalization of variables, and data analysis.”

Following Zuckerman’s retirement, Onukwugha assumed the role as director of PRC on Jan. 1. And, with this new role came a wide range of new responsibilities.

“We have to think about ways in which we can continue to innovate and remain competitive,” says Onukwugha. “I am looking forward to working with PRC staff on a wide range of initiatives to increase the availability of our databases to the larger community, identify additional resources for obtaining and maintaining data, expand training and professional opportunities for graduate students and other trainees, and expand the center’s overall services and customer base.”

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