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A New Research Pharmacy Opens on Campus, Ushering in New Possibilities

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Clinical pharmaceutical research. Drug trials. Pharmaceutical trial patients. These medical buzzwords have a new home at CU Pharmacy – making the school a key player in not only developing new pharmaceuticals, but managing drug trials so new developments in pharmacy can be brought to the market, and one day save a life.

The Research Pharmacy, a cross-collaborative project led by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and in partnership with the School of Medicine, the CU Anschutz Chancellor, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, opened its doors in late 2022. 

Dr. Sam Ellis, PharmD

Sam Ellis, PharmD, Director of the new Research Pharmacy.

Director of the Research Pharmacy, Sam Ellis, PharmD, has been part of the project, in various phases, since 2012. He was working at the CU Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes, which at the time had an infusion center but it was not in use. Dr. Ellis explained that patients were sent to Children’s Hospital or UC Health facilities to receive their clinical trial medications.

“There was a decision made, that I was part of, to bring the clinical trial phase to campus,” Dr. Ellis said. “As part of that initiative, they needed an investigational drug service, so I created an investigational drug center.”

By 2017, after five years of the investigational drug service, the campus saw a need to bring all aspects of research pharmacy together in one place, and talks began to form the Research Pharmacy we have today. 

“Those conversations really changed the culture of the campus,” Dr. Ellis said. “We needed our own research pharmacy… at the time, there were a number of researchers who were needing to use outside pharmacies to compound their products, and then those products were delivered back to the research teams. The concept was to protect investigators, improve safety for patients, and to allow investigators to have easier access to their product.” 

About six months ago, the conversations turned into reality when the Research Pharmacy opened its doors. It serves as the hub for pharmaceuticals in the trial phase and supports clinical research studies for all projects on the CU Anschutz campus that have outpatient trial participants. 

For example, if a patient is visiting the Barbara Davis Center for their trial diabetes medication, their medication has been compounded, packaged, and stored in the Research Pharmacy by the CU Pharmacy team for that specific patient. It then is delivered to the Barbara Davis Center when the patient arrives for their outpatient visit. Further, the CU Research Pharmacy assists in the clinical and administrative functions of drug research while assuring compliance with all federal, state, and Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board regulations concerning investigational drugs. 


Team members suit up to get to work inside the new Research Pharmacy.

As the research pharmacy team explained, once a patient is enrolled, then they receive the order for that specific patient, and they can compound and dispense the medication. It is personalized pharmaceuticals, and the team is meticulous. Patient safety is their highest priority, and they work very closely with investigative teams from across campus as part of a collaborative effort to improve human health. They also bring students along in the process because knowledge works best when shared. 

“We have students on rotation,” Dr. Ellis said. “We have fourth year APPE [Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience] students, and we will do that about six or seven times a year, so we can have students here year-round.” 

Dr. Ellis sees great potential in the Research Pharmacy. 

Currently, his team handles outpatient trials, but he says a growing area could be clinics, other CU medicine facilities, and even animal science. 

“The potential for us to grow is there,” he said. “I’m excited to see where it goes.”