Former USask pharmacy student Tanya Fontaine in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition Apotex Lab before the pandemic. (Photo: David Stobbe)

Canadian universities, professional associations, businesses licensing use of USask-developed pharmacy resource

A clinical resource for pharmacists first developed at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) nearly 10 years ago is finally getting its due.


Since September 2020, a number of Canadian pharmacy schools, professional associations, and private companies have been paying licensing fees to USask to use a set of 27 prescribing guidelines.

Created and maintained by medSask, a drug information service for Saskatchewan health-care professionals and residents located in USask’s College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, the guidelines are a comprehensive resource for pharmacists that include treatment algorithms designed to help them decide whether and what to prescribe for minor conditions and self-care conditions ranging from acne and cold sores, to urinary tract infections and hormonal contraception.

Charity Evans, director of medSask, said there are a number of reasons organizations outside the province are paying to access the pharmacy decision aids.

“First, it’s a massive amount of work to create and maintain guidelines,” said Evans.

As well, medSask is nationally recognized for being an independent, non-profit organization based at a university. And pharmacists love the fact that the medSask guidelines are a one-stop shop.

“They don’t have to scroll through pages and pages on websites. Everything is right here, easy to find, succinct,” said Evans.

Until last fall, organizations outside the province enjoyed free access to the guidelines, which are evidence-based and regularly reviewed to ensure they are consistent with current published research and clinical guidelines. They were originally developed in 2012 to be a resource for Saskatchewan’s 2,000 pharmacists, who wereat the timeamong the first in the country allowed to prescribe drugs for minor ailments. 

John Mapletoft with the university’s Research Excellence and Innovation (REI) group, said it was a straightforward process bringing the medSask guidelines to market.

“This was a ready-to-go product. It had already survivedand thrivedunder contact with the real world. There is built up demand for it.”

The REI team liaises with potential external partners and negotiates license agreements for university innovations. Many of the USask-developed products Mapletoft and colleagues work with are still in their relative infancy.

Licensing had been on Evans’s radar since she took over as director of medSask in 2018. She was keen to find another revenue stream to help ensure medSask could continue to maintain the prescribing guidelines. Evans reached out to Mapletoft and his team, and medSask staff spent nearly a year reviewing and updating its entire catalogue of guidelines.

Pharmacy schools and professional associations pay a flat annual fee based on the number of pharmacy students or pharmacists using the guidelines. With for-profit companies looking to incorporate the guidelines into their products, Mapletoft and colleagues are negotiating sales-based agreements that limit vendors’ upfront investment, but reward USask appropriately if the product is successful.

“We don’t want to cripple their product by having them pay a bunch of fees right off the top. We want them to be successful and profitable,” said Mapletoft.

Keeping the guidelines up-to-date is a full-time job for one pharmacist at medSask. Evans and Mapletoft hope that the income the medSask guidelines generates through licensing will eventually offset the cost of the upkeep.

“It’s expensive to maintain these guidelines, so if we can recoup our costs that would be great,” said Evans.

Both Evans and Mapletoft agree that the other benefit, is that medSask and the university are now getting proper credit for the work that goes into developing and maintaining the prescribing guidelines.

“That’s a very important part of thisgetting the recognition that the good work that’s done here is providing value to others across the country,” said Mapletoft.

medSask provides Saskatchewan health-care professionals and residents with evidence-based drug information 365 days a year. It is funded by the Ministry of Health’s Saskatchewan Drug Plan and Extended Benefits Branch, the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professionals, and individual donations.