UNCW to Launch Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Friday, April 08, 2022

The North Carolina Board of Governors approved the sixth doctoral program for the University of North Carolina Wilmington at its April meeting. This highly anticipated program will offer the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and build on the successful chemistry programs at UNCW.

“We are excited and pleased to have the North Carolina Board of Governors’ approval for this new doctoral program,” said Dr. Paulo Almeida, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “I thank our faculty for their dedication in bringing this program to life after years of hard work.”

Pharmaceutical chemistry is the study of medicines and their development. From antibiotics and cancer therapies to vaccine production, the pharmaceutical industry improves patient outcomes and saves lives around the world.  

The new doctoral program at UNCW will provide in-depth training in pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry. Graduates will be prepared to join careers in academia, and in the private sector as contributing scientists and project leads for pharmaceutical companies and related chemical industries.

“There is an increasingly rapid pace for discovery and development of new medicines to combat today’s human diseases,” said Dr. R. Thomas Williamson, chair of the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry committee. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is an example, which has been a key factor in turning the tide of a global pandemic that has taken millions of lives world-wide.

“Other drug discoveries,” continued Dr. Williamson, “have completely changed how we think about treating cancer as we shift away from traditional chemotherapeutic agents and instead enable our own cells to defend themselves.” Medical advances such as these begin in labs with dedicated scientists committed to a high level of scientific investigation on drugs.

“Elevating UNCW to a level of doctoral research and discovery in pharmaceutical chemistry is incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Jeremy Morgan, professor and incoming chair for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “New innovations flowing from advanced faculty and student research will have the potential to spark creation of industry opportunities across the state, nation and even internationally.”  

 Chemistry student

Over the last 10 years, UNCW has graduated nearly 1,000 students through the chemistry program, which includes a bachelor’s and master’s offering. The new doctoral program will integrate seamlessly and build on the existing successful master’s program in chemistry, particularly the pharmaceutical chemistry concentration.

“The Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry is designed to strengthen our connectivity with industry partners and collaborators so that, together, we can elevate our commitment to promoting a healthier tomorrow for our region and state,” said Dr. Chris Finelli, dean of the Graduate School. “The program will provide cutting-edge technology, world-renowned academic faculty, expert industry advisors and the opportunity to tackle current and future health challenges.”

Southeastern North Carolina has seen steady growth in the pharmaceutical industry. Research labs, development and manufacturing labs and large-scale biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies are moving into the region and expanding existing facilities. This expansion requires recruitment of a well-trained workforce, which UNCW aims to meet with its future doctoral graduates.

Incoming doctoral students will have the opportunity to use the resources and professional expertise available at these established UNCW facilities: Center for Marine Science, Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina (MARBIONC), Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Office of Innovation and Commercialization and multiple university-sponsored analytical facilities.  

The doctoral pharmaceutical chemistry program is scheduled to launch in fall 2023, pending final approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). More information about the program and its offerings will be available in the coming months. In the meantime, questions can be directed to Dr. Williamson at

This is the second doctoral program approval for UNCW since the academic year began in August 2021. With this newest addition, there are now six doctoral programs available. UNCW received the Carnegie classification of an R2 institution in 2018, which is defined as a “doctoral university: high research activity.” The university has since seen a significant growth in its graduate education offerings and enrollment.

“The strategic development of innovative doctoral degree programs, centered on areas of importance to our region and the state, will continue to enhance the university’s academic excellence for years to come,” said Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli.

-- Megan Kauzlaric