Colorado researcher/educator named new pharmacy dean

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Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D.
A prodigious researcher with 25 years of academic pharmacy experience, Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., has been selected as the new dean of the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

The selection of Dr. Fletcher, who has been associated with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver for the past five years, was announced by UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D. Dr. Fletcher will begin his new post on Nov. 1.

"We are very pleased and excited to recruit Dr. Fletcher as dean of the College of Pharmacy," Dr. Maurer said. "Dr. Fletcher was our first choice. He is a nationally renowned leader and has focused his considerable research skills on HIV projects, all of which are federally funded. In addition, he brings a great deal of expertise to advancing our educational programs. I am delighted that he and his wife, Jean, also a pharmacist, will be relocating to Omaha."

For Dr. Fletcher, his excitement for the new career opportunity can hardly be contained. "I was attracted to this job because of the strength of the College of Pharmacy," he said. "It has a long, distinguished history of pharmacy education and research. It was the third college in the nation to move to the doctor of pharmacy degree. In 2005, its students ranked 11th on the national pharmacy licensure exam. The college is ranked 27th out of more than 90 colleges of pharmacy by US News & World Report, and its research funding has more than doubled over the last five years.

"Put all of these things together, and you can see that it was a very attractive opportunity for me. I want to take a strong school and try to make it better. I want to be humble about this statement, but I believe that great people want to be part of great things. This is a College of Pharmacy and a health sciences center where things are happening, and I am excited to be a part of it."

Dr. Fletcher will succeed Clarence Ueda, Pharm.D., Ph.D., who has been with the UNMC College of Pharmacy for 33 years and served as dean the past 20 years. Dr. Ueda will return to the classroom full-time as a tenured professor in the pharmaceutical sciences department.

"Anybody who takes a dean's position is building upon the success of others," Dr. Fletcher said. "My real goal is to take what Dr. Ueda and others have done and build upon their many successes. We will aim to be preeminent in education and research and build leadership within the health science center and the profession of pharmacy. We want people to say that 'nobody does it better.'"

A native of Greybull, Wyo., Dr. Fletcher, 52, earned his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy (with honors) from the University of Wyoming in 1978 and his doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Minnesota in 1982.

At Colorado, he has been serving as professor with joint appointments in the department of clinical pharmacy, School of Pharmacy, and the division of infectious diseases in the department of medicine. In addition, Dr. Fletcher serves as director of the Antiviral Pharmacology Laboratory.

Prior to going to Colorado, Dr. Fletcher held academic pharmacy positions at the University of Minnesota (1983-2002) and Drake University (1982-83). At Minnesota, he served as professor in the College of Pharmacy's Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology. He began his academic pharmacy career at Drake, where he held the position of clinical assistant professor.

Dr. Fletcher's research experience is prolific. He has devoted his research and practice interests toward the clinical pharmacology of antiviral agents. His cumulative federal funding as principal investigator is approximately $9.3 million in direct costs, while the cumulative value of federally funded projects on which Dr. Fletcher has worked as a co-investigator is approximately $40 million.

He said he will continue his research activities at UNMC and hopes to possibly bring some of his laboratory staff from Colorado. The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center is a research powerhouse bringing in nearly $300 million per year in outside research funding. "I'm a believer that research makes our teaching and clinical practice better," Dr. Fletcher said. "Researchers strive to discover and disseminate new knowledge. It completes the circle (of education and patient care). We're all about trying to change people's lives for the better."

Dr. Fletcher's research has focused on trying to treat viral infections in immunocompromised patients. Much of his early research work was done at the University of Minnesota, which, like UNMC, is a major solid organ transplant center.

He became interested in the AIDS virus when many AIDS patients were being diagnosed with cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in their eye. He had done extensive research on CMV, which can be life threatening for patients who are immunocompromised.

He currently is principal investigator on three long-standing NIH grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Two of these grants were originally funded in 1993 and the other in 1996. One grant involves the study of concentration-controlled antiretroviral therapy, while the other grants provide funding for adult and pediatric AIDS pharmacology laboratories. During his research career, he has been involved in 25 funded research projects.

Dr. Fletcher has authored or co-authored more than 110 manuscripts in peer-reviewed scientific journals and more than 140 research papers for presentation at national and international scientific meetings. He has directed the training of eight post-doctoral (Pharm.D.) fellows in antiviral clinical pharmacology, two Ph.D. students and six master's level students.

He has nearly 15 years of academic administrative experience including five years as chairman of the department of clinical pharmacy at Colorado. At Minnesota, he served three years as director of graduate studies in social, administrative and clinical pharmacy, three years as assistant head, department of pharmacy practice, and four years as assistant director of pharmaceutical services at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic.

Dr. Fletcher is presently a member of the NIH's AIDS Discovery and Development of Therapeutics Study Section as well as the Department of Health and Human Services' Panel on Clinical Practices for the Treatment of HIV Infection. He is a past member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Antiviral Drug Advisory Committee.

Growing up in Greybull, a town of about 2,000 people, Dr. Fletcher said his rural roots should serve him well in Nebraska. "Living in Wyoming, then working in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado (all primarily rural states), I'm very comfortable coming to Nebraska," he said. "It fits me. I can't wait to get there."

An avid skier, runner, biker and gardener, Dr. Fletcher is hopeful that Nebraska soil will provide him more success in growing roses than he had in Colorado. He met his wife, Jean, when they were working at a pharmacy in Minneapolis while going to pharmacy school. They have been married for 24 years and have two dogs -- a Sheltie and an Irish Setter.

What others are saying

"A number of other colleges of pharmacy are looking for deans, so it's a very competitive market right now. Dr. Fletcher stood out from the pack. He really did his homework. He has a solid research background and understands where pharmacy education is going in the future. I salute the search committee for a job well done. I think we hit a home run (with the hiring of Dr. Fletcher)."

Rubens Pamies, M.D., vice chancellor for academic affairs and chairman of the search committee

"Dr. Fletcher unequivocally stood out as the top candidate. He has the ideal combination of research background with a productive research program in HIV-1/AIDS and a clear understanding of the pharmacy practice and patient care issues. In his tenure as chairman, his department ranked number 1 in the entire nation with the largest number of grants held by faculty members with a Pharm.D. degree. Dr. Fletcher's responses to questions reflected a depth of knowledge and thinking that stood head and shoulders above all the other candidates. With his level of understanding of issues and his vision, he will not only be able to resolve the issues that face the College of Pharmacy but also take the college to the next level. He is highly personable, and in my view, it is a bonus that he believes in pursuing activities outside of work and is an avid skier."

Anuja Ghorpade, Ph.D., executive vice chairwoman and associate professor of the department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience

"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Fletcher for many years and have enormous respect for his intellect. If I have a difficult pharmacology problem, I go to him. He is also a delightful person and extremely collegial. I have no doubt he will be a huge asset to the College of Pharmacy, and I am thrilled that he is coming to Nebraska."

Dr. Susan Swindells, medical director of the HIV clinic at UNMC and the Terry K. Watanabe Professor of Internal Medicine in the section of infectious diseases

"We are very fortunate to have Dr. Fletcher named as our new College of Pharmacy dean. The future is bright!"

Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., professor, College of Pharmacy