An Elevated Experience

AACP Article

As a NAM Pharmacy Fellow, Dr. Adam Bress relished the opportunity to expand his research on preventing cardiovascular disease and optimizing medication use.

By Joseph A. Cantlupe

As an associate professor of population health sciences in the Division of Health System Innovation and Research at the University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine, Dr. Adam Bress loves diving into research. He focuses on cardiology issues, particularly hypertension, which impacts millions of people across the country. Talking to Bress, you get the sense of his commitment and passion, with the power of his academic training solidly the impetus and driver behind his data-driven science.

That purpose was augmented for him—in sometimes surprising ways—when Bress was selected for the 2020 class of National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Fellowships. The two-year appointment as a Pharmacy Fellow was inspiring, Bress said, as he initiated collaborations with researchers, policy experts and clinicians nationwide and explored new and expanding ventures in his research. The NAM Fellowship is an opportunity for an early career health science scholar to participate in the work of the National Academies and develop as a leader in the field. Under the program, endowed by AACP and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, the Fellows continue their regular academic assignment and carry out National Academies’ health and science policy work. Each Fellow also works with an expert study committee or roundtable related to his or her particular interest.

“It really elevates the potential for impact of pharmacist-scientists at the highest levels of science and medicine and health policy,” he noted. “It gave me and other Fellows the experiences, the networks—the seats at the table, the opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Our confidence and skills and experiences go on to a higher level than ever before, perhaps more dreams are then open to us, that we wouldn’t have experienced previously.”

In addition to serving as the vice chair of research for the Department of Population Health Sciences at the university, Bress is also an Investigator at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System. As a cardiovascular clinical pharmacist with training in epidemiology and pharmacogenetics, Bress has concentrated his research on the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, exploring medication usage and targeting health disparities. His work, reputation, accomplishments and qualifications all led to his selection as the fifth Pharmacy Fellow in the NAM program. During that time he served on the committee that wrote the consensus statement titled “Improving Representation in Clinical Trials and Research: Building Research Equity for Women and Under- represented Groups,” which led to changes in the FDA around requirement for diversity in clinical trials.

Heart clinical trials


Dr. Adam Bress

“It actually broadened my focus, as my experience and skills evolved, and I learned more about myself, my strengths and weaknesses.” Among other things,

it provided “rare and variable skills of collaboration and scientific experience.”

—Dr. Adam Bress

His research focusing on hypertension as well as preventing cardiovascular disease and dementia has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American College of Cardiology and Circulation. Bress’s research exploring the application of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial results to the U.S. adult population has been cited more than 160 times and he was involved with the new U.S. High Blood Pressure Guidelines in 2017, accord- ing to the university. In 2018, he received the American College of Clinical Pharmacy’s New Investigator Award, which recognizes an ACCP member who has made a significant impact on an aspect of clinical pharmaceutical science.

Lessons on Pharmacy’s Impact

For Bress, his interest in optimizing medication use and improving health equity made the lessons learned from the pandemic particularly relevant. As the country turns the corner on COVID-19, he reflected on the takeaways for healthcare professionals. “The people with the highest mortality rates were the elderly and also those with chronic conditions, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Those conditions can be prevented or delayed to some degree through evidence-based behaviors and interventions.”

The Fellowship program has had an extensive impact on his work, he emphasized. He made new connections and found mentors, in addition to discovering opportunities to share his research thanks to relationships fostered through NAM activities. “It actually broadened my focus, as my experience and skills evolved, and I learned more about myself, my strengths and weaknesses.” Among other things, it provided “rare and variable skills of collaboration and scientific experience.”

From Zoom meetings to real-life sessions and various events, to “how are you doing?” text messages, he continued, “it opened my eyes to the many roles of government and advocacy groups and nonprofits” related to pharmacy, particularly the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and its attention to opioid issues. Bress said he was inspired by the work that generated “pathways for me to contribute, with deep meaning and purpose.”

Bress has continued to establish collaborations with a multi- disciplinary team of investigators in hypertension, cardiology, health services research, epidemiology and pharmacogenetics at the University of Utah and around the country. He is a member of the hypertension working groups for two ongoing NIH-funded cohort studies, including the Jackson Heart Study (JHS), the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study and the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). He is also an active member of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) Research Group.

In his clinical work, academic instruction and studies, Bress considers himself to be, above all, a researcher. “Research is what I do 80 percent of the time; 10 percent educator and 10 percent administrator,” he said. “Combining clinical pharmacy and cardiovascular therapeutics and quantitative epidemiology research has been a wonderful synergy and his primary path: “I love the work and training early-stage investigators, coming up with ideas and testing in data. It’s super exciting to me.”

Bress wants to build mentor research programs and “generate information to the public that helps change the narrative around blood pressure and cholesterol screening and earlier treatment” and hopes that will encourage people to be “more comfortable and motivated to consider medication to prevent heart disease, dementia, stroke and kidney disease.”

From his own work and that of other Fellows, Bress sees inspiration for a next generation of pharmacy scientists, “people who are interested in optimizing the medication process, discovering new therapeutics, learning how to use already existing safe and effective medications to help people live healthier and happier lives.”

Looking back on his time as a Fellow, Bress noted that he was grateful “for the vision and experience that changed our professional lives and a huge difference maker, and grateful for the vision to get it started.”

Joseph A. Cantlupe is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

Learn More at AACP’s Annual Meeting Bress will be a featured speaker at the session “Research, Health Science and Policy in Academic Pharmacy” during AACP’s Annual Meeting next month in Aurora, Colorado. He and other current and past NAM Fellows in Pharmacy will share thoughts on U.S. policy as well as how NAM promotes pharmacy research.