Meet the new Dean: Professor Arthur Christopoulos
The builders are still fitting out his new office when we meet, so Monash University’s new Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Professor Arthur Christopoulos, remains ensconced in the third floor office he’s occupied for the last few years, reflecting upon how life has come full circle.
“I’ve ended up right back where I started from,” says Professor Christopoulos, who graduated with a Pharmacy degree from the then-Victorian College of Pharmacy, but won’t be drawn as to exactly how long ago.
“When I was a student this building didn’t even exist. It was a carpark. In the spot where the Dean’s office is, we used to play kick-to-kick at lunchtime.”
“Ever since I was in high school I wanted to be a pharmacist. There is a rich history here of primary health care that always drew me to the profession”.
But far from being transfixed by the past, Professor Christopoulos is thinking hard about the future of pharmacy.
Although he’s still in the fact-finding phase of his Deanship, “...they wouldn’t have given me the job if I didn’t have some kind of vision.”
He’s quick to acknowledge what he’s inherited from his predecessor and mentor Professor Bill Charman.
“Bill led this place for 13 years,” he says. “Under his leadership it’s become one of most highly-regarded pharmacy and pharmaceutical science institutions in global higher education. You don’t mess with a winning formula. My vision is more about evolution than deconstruction.”
Professor Christopoulos sees that evolution relying strongly on collaboration across Monash University to take advantage of the current opportunities in biomedical research.
“One of the big things for me is cross-faculty integration. Now’s the time to really grow the Parkville precinct but in a whole-of-Monash manner, where you bring in IT, engineering, medicine and science, even law, business/ economics and arts.”
He is also looking to engage former students.
“Our alumni are very clever people. I’ll be speaking with them and looking for opportunities to share some of their ideas and also get some of their input as to what they see as the challenges facing us going forward,” he adds.
“No one has a monopoly on good ideas, so you should just surround yourself with lots of smart people and be humble enough to accept their ideas to address your vision.”
Professor Christopoulos believes one of the biggest challenges is in community pharmacy, where approximately 75 per cent of the profession’s workforce is currently employed.
“There are quarter of a million hospital admissions each year in Australia because people don’t take their medications properly. It costs our economy $1.4 billion dollars per annum,” Professor Christopoulos adds.
“We’ve got to get to the next stage of pharmacy, which is really making sure we embed pharmacists wherever medicines are used.”
Professor Christopoulos believes pharmacists need to be with patients every step of the way and that virtual and digital health are the big areas of opportunity to make this happen.
“That’s the next revolution we should be focusing on,” he says. “The way I like to think of it is ‘hospital in the home; pharmacist on the phone.”
When asked what sort of student he was, Professor Christopoulos hesitates.
“I failed first year pharmacy,” he laughs before explaining how competing interests got in the way at the start of his university studies.
“I was a musician and I was trying to choose between a career in music and a career in science and I think in that first year of pharmacy was crunch time because you go to university and you find out everyone’s smart, not just you.”
While pharmacy won out, the passion for music hasn’t faded. Professor Christopoulos illustrates this by opening his office cupboard to show one of his guitars.
“In fact, I always have at least one in the office,” he enthuses. “I have another 32 at home.”
The son of Greek migrants, Professor Christopoulos was the first person in his family to finish tertiary studies. He credits his parents with teaching him the value of hard work.
“I studied hard and I found that I loved it. What I was drawn towards in particular was pharmacology; the science of how drugs work.”
That interest has led to a prestigious research career and numerous international awards for his study of the G protein-coupled receptors, the largest class of protein targets for medicinal agents.
“The best analogy for what we discovered studying these proteins is that of a ‘dimmer switch’ that can be modulated by drugs,” he says. “Most current drugs treat their protein targets like ‘on-and-off-switches’, which is not very physiological, but what we discovered was the ‘dimmer switch’, which allows us to better tailor a medicine to unique nuances associated with different diseases.”
Now Professor Christopoulos is looking to the future of how this groundbreaking work can be applied.
“So now you combine that with the types of advances that are being made in devices and delivery approaches and you can come up with something totally magical.”
With research being so important to Professor Christopoulos, he has decided to keep his laboratory going while serving as Dean.
One thing’s certain: the new Dean of Monash Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is hungry for the challenges that lie ahead.
“If I’ve got 10 plus years left, what am I going to do that has the most impact? I started by wanting to come up with better medicines so I’m going to finish by wanting to come up with better medicines. That’s basically what made me just go for it.”