June 2017 Contents


Fighting Opioid Abuse through Formulation

Doctoral student Heather Boyce is passionate about giving back to others.

By Mark Crawford

p25studentAfter graduating with a degree in chemistry from Temple University, Heather Boyce took a job with a contract manufacturing organization (CMO) involved in active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) particle reduction. “At the time I had no concept of what an API or CMO was or why it was necessary to make the API smaller,” she says.

This, it turned out, launched her pharmaceutical career. Boyce soon immersed herself in learning about drug delivery and formulation, which opened up a much larger perspective regarding pharma. “I became fascinated by the level of engineering and material science required to create drug products,” she says.

After applying to several graduate programs that specialized in pharmaceutics, she selected the University of Maryland-Baltimore (UMB) for her doctoral program, where she will receive her degree in 2017. Her research focused on the characterization of excipient materials in abuse-deterrent formulations.

Boyce knows that studying pharmaceutical science was the right career decision. “I love that every day I’m working toward helping others feel better and be better,” she says. “It is such rewarding work.”

Throughout her graduate program, Boyce has been an active member of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS)—especially in the Formulation Design and Development (FDD) section, where she served as the FDD student representative from 2015 to 2016. She also served as vice president of the UMB student chapter from 2014 to 2015 and as president from 2015 to 2016. Her leadership helped the chapter win first place in the AAPS 2016 Student Chapter of the Year Awards—the first time in its history. “This was a goal we diligently worked toward over the past few years,” says Boyce. “I was proud to witness how the hard work of our chapter payed off.”

Following Her Passion  

Boyce is driven by a deep belief in helping others and making the world a better place—something she can achieve through working in pharma. She is eager to continue working with abuse-deterrent formulations that will positively impact public policy. “One of the challenges in this area is how to show that a generic abuse-deterrent formulation is bioequivalent to an innovator abuse-deterrent product,” Boyce states. “Defining what a bioequivalent deterrent is involves the complexity of actual abuser behavior being an inherent moving target. It is incredibly important to make sure affordable generic opioids are on the market that work equally as well as innovator products.”

Her long-term goal is to efficiently develop already marketed, off-patent products at lower price points to ensure adequate global supply at a fair price. “I do understand that capitalism fuels cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, but there are successful business models like OneWorld Health that increase access to medications and health care,” she adds. “I believe more innovative 21st-century business models will be developed that increase medical care access to those who most need it.”

Giving Back  

Boyce believes that one must give in order to receive. This of course means championing social improvement through her work, but also helping and mentoring other pharmaceutical scientists.

“I’ve personally received an enormous amount of help in my career and must continue to pay that help forward,” she says. “Sometimes I forget what it was like to struggle at first, starting out. By helping those who are in that place of struggle now, I am reminded of how far I’ve come, and also that I did not get there on my own.”

As a graduate student, Boyce enjoys mentoring younger students. She has mentored several high school students who worked in the university lab during the summer.

“The kids would ask all sorts of questions that kept me on my toes,” she laughs. “My favorite part is toward the end of the summer when they prepare presentations regarding the details of their projects. They are quite nervous at first, but I spend a lot of time coaching, prepping, and practicing with them so they are well prepared. It’s so rewarding to see them get up there and feel empowered.”

Building Leadership Skills  

Boyce is constantly developing her leadership skills. She admires leaders who can establish and effectively communicate mission and vision statements, which excite their teams about what they are setting out to achieve. Built upon these statements are goals that are challenging and rewarding, but also attainable. Other leadership skills Boyce admires are the ability to delegate tasks and continually motivate teams to achieve their goals, even in the face of adversity. “Finally,” she says, “great leaders emphasize progress. They ensure it is celebrated in incremental steps to maintain motivation. A lack of progress can lead to demotivation and failure of the team to accomplish their goals.” Boyce strives to incorporate these fundamental skills in her leadership style. 

She has learned from her leadership roles in AAPS, for example, that it is not always easy to motivate people. “I’m passionate about my field and my industry, but not everyone has the same level of passion that I do,” she says. “Trying to convince people why they will benefit from attending our events, or participate in our seminars, is often a challenge and sometimes requires multiple leadership skill sets.”

Student Advice 

Boyce is currently researching materials that make prescription opioid products harder to abuse and misuse. She would not be involved in this meaningful work if she had not entered a doctoral program, which she acknowledges was a life-changing experience—not just for her science and research skills, but her own personal development as well.

“Having the opportunity to study a research question provides opportunities to improve other essential personal skills such as leadership, public speaking, and mind and body wellness,” she adds. “My Ph.D. education taught me how to be a better researcher as well as helped me become a more balanced person.”

She advises students to work with a mentor early in their studies—not just when it is time to find a job. AAPS offers free mentor pairing for every student member. “Of course there will be struggles during your study that will be new to you; a mentor will be able to coach you through the most difficult times of your study and guide you when you may feel lost,” Boyce says.

Finally, Boyce urges students to stay involved with AAPS beyond their student chapter years—“it’s a fantastic opportunity to network and also work side by side with top industry leaders,” she says. “I have greatly cherished the relationships I’ve built through AAPS. AAPS has given me many opportunities to develop and demonstrate leadership and execute innovative initiatives. It has provided me with a sense of community and pride, being part of an industry that improves quality of life around the world. AAPS has given me the confidence to know that I can take on larger tasks outside of AAPS and throughout my career.”




Mark Crawford, a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis., specializes in science and technology.