Clinical Research Roles: How to Become a Research Pharmacist

A research pharmacist plays a critical role in the development of investigational drugs and does far more than dispensing drugs. They are essential members of clinical research teams and have a range of responsibilities. In this article, you will discover the qualifications required to become a research pharmacist, their crucial role in drug development, and average salaries.

What is a research pharmacist?

A research pharmacist, also known as a clinical study pharmacist, provides administrative and clinical drug services in the context of a clinical study.

Unlike a regular pharmacist who is charged with the supervision of prescription medications, a research pharmacist manages investigational drugs that are not yet approved as medical interventions. Therefore a research pharmacist must strictly adhere to federal, state, and IRB guidelines.

A clinical research pharmacist works with many professionals in the clinical research field, including research nurses, assistants, and study coordinators.

What do clinical research pharmacists do?

A clinical research pharmacist is responsible for ensuring that investigational drugs are developed and tested safely and effectively. [1] This involves working closely with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to design and conduct clinical trials that evaluate the safety and efficacy of new drugs.

In addition to their involvement in clinical research, research pharmacists may also be responsible for managing drug supplies, preparing medications for administration, and providing advice and guidance to healthcare professionals and patients about drug therapies. Using their medical expertise, research pharmacists explore medical literature and publications to locate any relevant background research for an investigational drug or new indication.

Additionally, they complete the pharmacy section of a clinical study protocol for IND applications and IRB approvals, describing the pharmacology of the drug and the inventory, compounding, dispensing, and recording procedures.

Other responsibilities of a research pharmacist include the following:

  • Identifying a range of subject dosages and dosage forms
  • Creating and reviewing drug packaging labels in accordance with federal and state regulations
  • Managing the storage and inventory of medications correctly
  • Compounding individual dosages and placebo per study protocol
  • Transporting medications to multiple study sites, locations, and facilities
  • Advocating the appropriate use of investigational drugs
  • Training research members such as clinical investigators and research nurses
  • Overseeing day-to-day operations within the research pharmacy
  • Ensuring research pharmacy operations comply with federal and state laws
  • Adverse-reaction monitoring and reporting
  • Organizing and analyzing drug-interaction post study
  • Patient counseling as participants move from clinical trial to therapy post-study

What qualifies someone to work as a research pharmacist?

A research pharmacist needs to have a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy or a related discipline such as biology or chemistry. A prospective research pharmacist can then take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) to gain admission to an accredited pharmacy college to complete a PharmD followed by a one to two-year residency. [2]

While a graduate degree in pharmacy after a PharmD may not always be required, it is a bonus. A Ph.D. can also be useful in pharmacy or a related field.

Additionally, training and certifications to improve opportunities within the research pharmacist field include:

  • GCP training with the NIDA Clinical Trial Network, which is a 12-module training that is valid for three years [3]
  • ICH GCP Certification, which certifies good clinical practice to conduct ethical studies [4]
  • Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) Certification [5]

Even with a pharmacy residency, additional work experience is required. However, to be employed, a research pharmacist must be licensed by the state’s board of pharmacy to work within the state.

Once licensed, a clinical research pharmacist needs at least one year’s experience working in hospital inpatient, ambulatory care, or community pharmacy to understand the basic protocols and regulations that all pharmacies must follow.

Finally, a good research pharmacist should have the following abilities:

  • To work as a team player and collaborate with others
  • Have strong research and technical report writing skills
  • Be organized and highly detailed oriented
  • Be able to multitask and follow study protocols
  • Be able to take directions and follow instructions

Where to find research pharmacist jobs

A research pharmacist can work in several employment settings, including research pharmacies in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, biotech laboratories, and academic institutions. Also, they can work on regulatory boards and in government agencies that oversee clinical research.

Research pharmacist jobs are listed on online job boards as well as in traditional print media. Additionally, those looking for pharmacy research jobs can reach out directly to the organizations mentioned above and inquire about employment opportunities.

Research pharmacist salary

A research pharmacist has a higher than average salary, earning more than standard pharmacists. The mean research pharmacist salary is approximately $139,000 per year, with a base salary starting above $100,000 a year. [6]

This salary continues to rise, and factors that can influence it include:

  • Geographical location: Employment in areas with more clinical studies and projects offers a higher base salary
  • Experience: The more experience a research pharmacist has, especially in a research pharmacy, the more they can earn
  • Qualification: Advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Ph.D. in pharmacy-related subjects can also help a research pharmacist reach a higher pay range

With the right combination, employment data shows that those in the 75th percentile and above can earn upwards of $180,000 a year. [7]

Research pharmacist job outlook

While the projected change in traditional pharmacist jobs is showing a slight decline, research pharmacist jobs are holding steady as clinical trial research expands. [8]