In Profile: Andrew Long, PharmD,
Lead Investigational Drug Pharmacist
There are a number of clinical trials underway at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University, and it takes a coordinated effort by clinicians, administrators, scientists, and pharmacists to keep the studies running safely and smoothly. Andrew Long, lead investigational drug pharmacist at the Center, has a vital role. Andrew shares his unique background and perspective of food allergy research in this interview with our eNews editor, Vanitha Sampath.
What is your Background?
I joined the Center in August 2014 after completing my Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During my final year in the program, I had the opportunity to spend one of my advanced practice clerkships assisting in clinical research focused on vaccine response in immunocompromised patients. That experience was one of my first exposures to investigational pharmacy, and it played a large role in my decision to seek work in the field of clinical research and investigational medicine after graduation. It also helped direct my interest in immunology and really highlighted how much is still unknown in the field.
What is your Role at the Center?
My main responsibility at the Center is to manage the investigational drugs used in our clinical trials. With over ten active trials and more on the horizon, there is a lot happening behind the scenes in the pharmacy to ensure the safe and appropriate use of those medications in each of our patients. Most traditional pharmacy work involves the verification and dispensing of approved medications at established doses. For food allergies, however, those medications and standardized dosing guidelines don’t really exist yet outside of clinical research. The classic standard of care has been limited to the avoidance of allergenic foods and the use of epinephrine in case of severe reaction due to accidental ingestion or exposure. The hope of the research at the Center is to change that standard for the better.
Most of the therapies we use involve the desensitization of an individual to their confirmed allergens through gradual increases in the amount of food allergen proteins given. The trials vary widely in the number and strengths of the different allergens used, the vehicle and mechanism by which the allergens are delivered, and whether or not additional medications are co-administered to help accelerate the desensitization process and decrease side effects. Many of these therapies are individualized and need to be carefully prepared and verified prior to each patient’s visit. To ensure that the correct investigational products are on hand and ready to be dispensed at each visit, we continually monitor and track where each patient is in their individualized treatment plan in order to anticipate their needs and manage our inventory accordingly. It is incredibly vital that each patient is given the right treatment in the correct sequence, and that the duration of time between each step of therapy is followed as per protocol. Maintaining patient safety is always our number one concern, and every dose goes through a minimum of two unique pharmacist verifications prior to dispensing, usually accompanied by an additional electronic verification. We also follow up with patients and their families to make sure they are educated on the safe and appropriate use of their study drug, and serve as a resource for any questions the patients or the research team may have about the investigational medications used.
Although we work with many traditional asthma and allergy medications, handling common food proteins, such as peanut and milk, as investigational drugs was definitely a change in thinking for me when I first joined the Center. While we were taught in depth about allergies and the associated immune mechanisms in pharmacy school, food proteins used in the setting of food allergy immunotherapy were not yet part of the curriculum. As we are beginning to see Phase II trials shift to Phase III and beyond, a new chapter in pharmacotherapy may not be so far off. It is an extremely unique opportunity to be able to contribute to the research aimed at developing and optimizing some of the first approved treatments for those affected by food allergies. I am very excited to see how some of the treatments we use at the Center transition from investigational medicine into approved products dispensed from pharmacies and used in clinics.
What is the most rewarding part of working for the Center?
I think the most rewarding part of working with the Center is seeing the progress each patient makes over the course of a clinical trial and the potential impact these therapies can have on our patients and their families. Hearing their stories has really helped open my eyes to the emotional and social burdens that come with a food allergy. It’s always awesome seeing a patient successfully complete a trial and move on to incorporate the same foods they used to avoid into their daily diet. Our patients and their families are amazing, and we really wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing without them. We can’t thank them enough for the amount of work and commitment they put into the trials alongside us. The work we do at the Center is at the forefront of food allergy research, and I’m extremely fortunate and honored to be working alongside some of the best and brightest in the field. These are truly exciting times for food allergy research, and I can’t wait to see what the research brings for all those affected as we continue to work toward the goal of a lasting cure.
Interview by Vanitha Sampath
Vanitha Sampath received her PhD in Nutrition from the University of California at Davis. At the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, as a medical writer and content manager, she enjoys being in the midst of groundbreaking research in asthma and allergy and is committed to communicating the scientific advances of the Center and spreading awareness of its mission and vision.