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For immediate use

Jan 16, 2003 – No. 27

School of Public Health, GlaxoSmithKline to create Center for Excellence in Pharmacoepidemiology

School of Public Health

CHAPEL HILL -- To advance the field of pharmacoepidemiology through innovation in research and training, the department of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health and GlaxoSmithKline are creating a Center for Excellence in Pharmacoepidemiology.

Pharmacoepidemiology is the study of the use and effects of drugs in large numbers of people. The center’s establishment is made possible through the commitment of $3 million in funding over five years by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

This long-term collaboration will address a range of issues affecting public health – for example, prevention and treatment of obesity.

"The Center for Excellence holds the promise to effect significant, positive change in the field of pharmacoepidemiology," said Dr. David A. Savitz, professor and chairman of the school’s department of epidemiology. "It will provide the focus and resources needed to advance public health through clear and convincing research focused on determining the scope, magnitude and natural history of diseases which significantly tax the public health system."

The UNC-based center, he added, will promote greater collaboration and extension of the knowledge needed to better manage and reduce the burden of disease.

"GSK will gain an additional source of objective and evidence-based research insights regarding diseases critical to public health, such as obesity, diabetes and HIV-AIDS, among others," said Dr. Alice White, vice president of worldwide epidemiology for GlaxoSmithKline. "The center also will provide GSK with a unique source of scholars and practitioners trained at the doctoral level."

UNC’s School of Public Health will benefit, too, gaining a long-term commitment of faculty resources to further develop needed coursework and to attract key talent in both faculty and graduate students.

"To our knowledge, no other such industry-academic partnership has been created, despite the tremendous strategic benefits it offers both institutions," said Dr. Bill Roper, dean of the UNC School of Public Health. "Given the practical application of pharmacoepidemiology needed by GlaxoSmithKline and the outstanding methodological grounding and intellectual curiosity of our epidemiology faculty, linking the needs of GSK to the capabilities of our school makes for a compelling synergy."

The center director, yet to be named, will provide intellectual leadership and visibility to the enterprise. Until that time, Savitz and Dr. Suzanne West, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the School of Medicine and research associate professor of epidemiology, will serve as interim co-directors.

An internal advisory board of key UNC and GSK representatives will oversee policy, help develop the center’s vision and provide ongoing stewardship. In addition, between three and five faculty members in the department of epidemiology will devote 20 percent-to-50 percent of their time to center projects and activities.

The center is expected to present significant cross-pollination opportunities. UNC will develop courses as continuing education or distance learning opportunities for industry professionals, and GSK will sponsor graduate student internships in pharmacoepidemiology. In addition, talent from elsewhere in public health, as well as the schools of medicine and pharmacy, will be engaged with key GlaxoSmithKline staff from the Research Triangle Park, Philadelphia and other sites worldwide.

Research projects will focus on pharmacoepidemiology methods broadly, rather than on studies proprietary to GSK, said Savitz. Center collaborators will identify a small number of key issues, which will be matched with the talents and intellectual interests of GSK and UNC participants.

"At times there will be a compelling need to foster research on an important topic that comes from GSK, and as they are identified, UNC and GlaxoSmithKline will negotiate an appropriate research contract," Savitz said. "In other cases, UNC faculty will provide the motivation based on their own interest or research in progress."

The center also will include a small grant program to foster new collaborations and provide an opportunity to explore innovative research avenues.

GlaxoSmithKline’s gift counts toward the Carolina First Campaign, a comprehensive, multi-year private fund-raising campaign to help support the vision of UNC becoming the nation’s leading public university.

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Note: Savitz can be reached at (919) 966-7427 or West can be reached at (919) 966-7129 or White can be reached at (919) 483-9448 or

UNC School of Public Health contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 966-7467 or

UNC News Services contact:
Deb Saine, (919) 962-8415