A methodology proposed by Tobias Gerhard may provide a new way to apply existing data in comparing within-class drug outcomes. This novel idea has recently captured the attention—and the financial support—of two different funding organizations. Gerhard, a pharmacoepidemiologist, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice and administration at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.

In February, Gerhard won the 2020 Sternfels Prize for Drug Safety Discoveries, which carries a $35,000 award in recognition of innovative ideas for reducing the real-world risks of pharmaceutical therapy. And, in April, he received an R01 grant for $566,464 from the National Institute on Aging. Both awards recognize his research proposal entitled “A Novel Approach to Examine Within-Class Therapeutic Exchangeability of Medications.”

As Gerhard explains, treatment guidelines and prescription drug insurance formularies typically assume that individual drugs within medication classes are equally effective and equally safe. Such assumptions are often made without supporting evidence from randomized controlled trials, potentially exposing patients to suboptimal treatments and clinical harms.

Gerhard’s proposed methodology would use existing data on 22 million Medicare beneficiaries to answer key questions about the comparative safety and efficacy of drugs within four widely used therapeutic classes. The idea behind the award-winning proposal, he says, “is to analyze data that is already out there in a new way, so we can compare drug outcomes without performing a clinical trial.”

The judges’ panel for the Sternfels Prize was impressed. “Dr. Gerhard’s proposal really stood out to us for its innovative methodology,” noted its spokesperson. “This unique approach, if successful, can be a game changer in how we decide to prescribe medicines with a given class.” Created to encourage scientists to think about ways to minimize the risks of side effects for patients, the prize is awarded annually to the most novel, clinically relevant, and testable idea to reduce life-threatening, drug-related adverse events.

As the fourth winner of the annual prize, Gerhard joins an elite group of previous winners proposing answers to clinically challenging questions.

Gerhard is also the director of the Center for Pharmacoepidemiology and Treatment Sciences at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.

Read more about the Sternfels Prize.