Professor Simon Bell and the future of CMUS

Earlier in 2019, the Australian Government announced medicine safety as a national health priority. As peak bodies in the health industry reorient their priorities to address managing medication safety, institutions and research facilities are shaping their focus and curriculum to meet growing health burdens.

The Monash University Centre for Medicine Use and Safety (CMUS) is working to meet this demand, with CMUS delivering several projects to provide the patented expertise to tackle pressing concerns including polypharmacy, managing medication errors and the mismanagement of medication regimes in vulnerable populations such as elderly Australians.

The changes are coming in what might be considered fortuitous timing. In 2018, data revealed that close to one million Australians over the age of 70 take five or more medications every day. Over half of the elderly Australian population may be taking at least one medication deemed as unnecessary.

Professor Simon Bell

Effective medication management forms one of pillars of patient wellbeing and recovery. Patient safety is in fact one of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global health priority areas, with the WHO estimating that medication mismanagement could cost 42 billion dollars annually.

The rise of polypharmacy has been met with a suite of dedicated research from CMUS researchers, with Doctor Janet Sluggett testifying this year at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on the dangers of poor regulation of medication regimes in residential aged care facilities.

CMUS itself operates with vigour in delivering innovative research to optimise health outcomes for individuals and communities throughout Australia and around the world. Established in 2008, CMUS has been providing expertise in integrating the roles of pharmacists in practical settings including hospitals, communities and the home. The Centre’s research has also led to a greater understanding on how general practitioners and pharmacists can work collaboratively to improve the quality of care for each patient.

Optimising health outcomes and managing patient safety can only be maintained through continuous research to identify disparities in medication safety, especially in vulnerable populations. These areas include polypharmacy, pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacy education, all overseen by CMUS’s new Director Professor Simon Bell.

Professor Bell, an NHMRC Dementia Leadership Fellow and an Adjunct Professor at both the University of Eastern Finland and University of South Australia has a research record in elderly medication use, dementia, deprescribing and more. Having been at CMUS for over five years and already seeing 10 PhD theses to completion, Professor Bell was the perfect candidate to pick up the mantle of Director in January this year.

Professor Bell adds that the role certainly had big shoes to fill in.

“Carl really embodied the heart and soul of CMUS. His role in pioneering aspects of the Vertically Integrated Master’s degree, contributions to each of the Faculty’s outreach programs and structuring a whole new partnership with MTP Connect and Certara to establish the new Certara-Monash Fellowship program in Drug Development Science certainly assisted in setting the stage for me to come into this role,” says Professor Bell.

“Carl has also provided the perspective in adopting a new approach to meet these new health priorities and understanding how we can use our position as leading experts to provide the necessary frameworks for patient safety.”

“As the roles of pharmacists change in Australia, it feels like a pertinent time to consider how we can harness our expertise to understand what more we can be doing not to just assist in a reactive space but to proactively prevent medication harm,” says Professor Bell.

“I see CMUS as having two key strengths; pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacometrics. Consolidating these into outcomes to tackle medication literacy, polypharmacy and enhancing our collaborative relationships with stakeholders across hospitals, pharmacies and governing bodies can go a long way in addressing patient safety as a global health priority.”

This tenacity is certainly on display, with an impressive suite of projects having been announced in less than one year. Led by Professor Bell, CMUS was the recipient of a novel innovation grant of $500,000 from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation and the Yulgilbar Alzheimer’s Research Program (YARP). The project uses the evaluation of big data to understand how medication management can be better used in treating dementia.

This year also saw Dr Johnson George of CMUS receiving a $2million grant for the new HAPPI MIND program, a national collaborative project across general practices to reduce dementia risk. Research Fellow Dr Jenni Ilomäki was also appointed Convener of new international collaboration Neurodegenerative Diseases Global Epidemiology Network (NeuroGEN), designed to manage medication risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

“CMUS is well positioned in a research space, we are now leading in the quest to meet Australia’s next big health priority, medication safety,” says Professor Bell.

“Clinical research and big data are some of the best tools we have in examining evidence and converting that into tangible outcomes.”

“We’re not just trying to develop strategies, we’re trying to maximise every bit of data we have to generate new information continuously.”