The mission of the UNC Pharmacoepidemiology Program is to advance public health through educating diverse audiences, developing innovative methods, and disseminating robust evidence on the uses and effects of medical interventions.
UNC is advancing pharmacoepidemiology (PE) through innovation in methods, application of those methods to critical issues in the field, and training future leaders. The Epidemiology Department within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health provides core teaching and robust training in the methods needed to study burden of illness, patterns of disease, and estimation of effects in both interventional and non-interventional settings. Students benefit from specialized training in PE through expansive course offerings and access to local and national databases to study the effectiveness and safety of medications/health interventions used in the population, with a particular focus on causal inference.
Students in the Pharmacoepidemiology Program work with our faculty to design and conduct high-quality epidemiology research that directly addresses both substantive and methodologic questions. Students gain experience through interdisciplinary opportunities in courses and collaborative work with researchers from the Schools of Public Health, Medicine, and Pharmacy, as well as through graduate research assistant opportunities with researchers and faculty in the Department of Epidemiology and epidemiology researchers working with external partners. Through fellowships and internships, students learn how to engage with industry and government stakeholders and become exposed to applied epidemiological research in a variety of settings.
There are two 3-credit required courses specifically for those interested in the pharmacoepidemiology program, taught every other year and a growing number of smaller modules addressing specific PE issues to choose from. They cover the basics of pharmacoepidemiologic research including one of its main aspects, the use of large, automated databases.
- EPID 765: Introduction to Pharmacoepidemiology (led by Til Stürmer and Juan Hincapie-Castillo) is the foundation course for pharmacoepidemiology students. It is taught every other year (odd years) in the spring semester. Students learn the application of epidemiologic knowledge, methodology, and reasoning to the study of effects (beneficial and adverse) and uses of drugs in human populations.
- EPID 766: Epidemiologic Research Using Health Care Databases (led by Jennifer Lund and Alan Kinlaw), is taught in parallel to EPID 765 in the spring semester every other year (odd years). The course in designed to teach students how to use administrative healthcare utilization data for epidemiologic studies.
Elective Modules and Seminars
- Special Topics in Pharmacoepidemiology, in which faculty teach a variety of topics in 1-2 credit modules. Previous iterations have included topics such as pharmacovigilance, simulations, aging populations, research using electronic medical records etc.
- Pharmacoepidemiology Seminar: a weekly seminar with updates on current work in progress within the department, invited speakers and opportunities to discuss recent advances in PE.
EPID 702 Systematic Review
EPID 760 Vaccine Epidemiology
EPID 790 Intervention Epidemiology
HPM 772 Techniques for the Economic Evaluation of Health Care
HPM 780 Pharmaceutical Health Policy
HPM 785 Advanced Decision Modeling
BIOS 752 Design and Analysis of Clinical Trials
BIOS 776 Causal Inference in Biomedical Research
CIRG Seminar Causal Inference Research Group Seminar
Dr Hincapie-Castillo: Focuses his research on drug utilization and safety in pain management and psychotropic pharmacotherapy, the evaluation of the effects of law on health outcomes and policy surveillance (legal epidemiology), and the assessment of health services utilization in pain management, substance use disorders, and chronic diseases.
Dr. Jonsson-Funk: Focuses her work on evaluating doubly-robust estimators, and applications to questions of comparative effectiveness and safety in large healthcare databases.
Dr. Lund: Conducts pharmacoepidemiologic and health services research with applications to older adult populations and those diagnosed with cancer, specifically evaluating (1) the quality of care received, (2) the effectiveness and safety of alternative treatment options, and (3) the role of polypharmacy, multimorbidity, and frailty in treatment selection, adherence, and outcomes.
Dr Mayo-Wilson: Dr. Mayo-Wilson is an expert in clinical trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses of intervention benefits and harms. He studies ways to make science more transparent and open.
Dr. Poole: Dr. Poole is an expert in epidemiologic methods from problem formulation through study design to data analysis, interpretation and application. His special interests include the role of chance; effect measure choice, estimation, and modification; case-control study design; regulatory risk assessment; systematic review and meta-analysis.
Dr. Stürmer: Is an expert in methods and clinical epidemiology. His methods research includes the development of more efficient matching strategies, propensity scores in pharmacoepidemiologic studies, and confounding control using validation studies.
Dr. Wood: works on the intersection of reproductive/perinatal epidemiology, pharmacoepidemiology, and epidemiologic methods. Dr Wood’s research focusses on risks and benefits of medication use during pregnancy, particularly for the treatment of chronic illness, psychiatric illness and pain.
Additional information about faculty research areas can be found here.
Researchers at UNC have extensive experience conducting epidemiologic research with a wide variety of population-level clinical and healthcare utilization databases including:
- Medicare Parts A, B, and D (possibility to link with UNC clinical data)
- Merative Marketscan Research Databases
- Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER)-Medicare
- United States Renal Data System (USRDS), linked with DaVita EMR data
- National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C)
- National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) – Medicare Linked Data
- North Carolina Medicaid, project-specific linkage to UNC electronic medical record (EMR) data
- Carolina Data Warehouse for Health (CDW-H) EMR (possibility to link with Medicare)
- Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), Women’s Health Initiative Study (WHI), both linked with Medicare data
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC (2006-2017) data, project-specific linkage to UNC EMR data
- MidSouth Clinical Data Research Network (CDRN) with EMR data from UNC, Duke, Vanderbilt, MUSC
- UNC is a PCORnet site
- UNC Lineberger Center – Cancer Information & Population Health Resource (CIPHR)
A list of publications by topic/substantive area and recent publications can be found here.
Partnership with the Center for Pharmaco-epidemiology
The Center for Pharmacoepidemiology (CPE) is a unique academic-industry partnership between the Department of Epidemiology in UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry. Initiated in 2002, the CPE currently has seven member companies: AbbVie, Astellas, Boehringer-Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Takeda, Sarepta and UCB. The Centre fosters collaborative research between academia and industry partners who share in the aim of generating valid evidence using observational data on real-world patients from a variety of sources. This has generated a rich and diverse environment to for the development and utilisation of innovative approaches to key issues in PE.
The CPE funds PE student fellowships and a variety of activities within the PE program. The CPE also holds annual workshops to address methodological issues in current projects with contributions from UNC and industry partners.
Graduate Student Research and Assistantships
Students with an intent to pursue in pharmacoepidemiology and related methodological work are assigned faculty advisors who provide research opportunities and mentorship. Students gain hands-on experience in working with large epidemiological databases and apply innovative methods to study design, conduct and analysis.
Collaboration within the School and the wider UNC community to integrate substantive area interests (e.g. cancer, reproductive and perinatal health, diabetes etc.) is highly encouraged and students pursue a wide range of research projects, both methodological and applied. Furthermore, students are exposed to the broader applications and opportunities provided by drug effectiveness and safety research, including within the pharmaceutical industry, contract research organizations and federal agencies.
Work from research assistantships with faculty mentorship is often presented at the ISPE (International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology) annual conference with opportunities for travel support. UNC also has an active student chapter of ISPE that coordinates the annual Harry Guess Memorial Lecture.
Students are funded through a variety of mechanisms including research assistantships in the Department of Epidemiology, other departments in Gillings or the School of Medicine, and as Centre for Pharmacoepidemiology fellows. Additional opportunities include research assistantships with industry partners and consultancy organizations and have included GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck, Amgen, UCB, RTI-HS, CERobs, Sentinel, and the US National Institutes of Health. Support usually includes a stipend, health insurance, and tuition coverage.
Graduates from the program join a diverse network of alumni who have gone on to pursue careers and leadership roles in academia, industry, governmental and non-governmental organizations both in the US and internationally.