The United States Pharmacopeia: 200 Years of Building Trust in Medicine

The TEDMED 2020 theme is Make Way For Wonder, and we are looking forward to convening our Community and embracing the wonders of our times, the astonishing accomplishments, incredible possibilities, and extraordinary potential for the future. So, we were thrilled when the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) decided to celebrate its 200th Anniversary with TEDMED. After all, today’s wonders are built upon a strong foundation of scientific discovery. And, humanity is especially eager for those innovations that will help people everywhere live longer and healthier lives. In anticipation of USP’s presence at TEDMED in March, we talked with Ronald T. Piervincenzi, Ph.D., chief executive officer, about the organization’s history, its current work, and its approach to building trust in the future of medicine, supplements, and foods.

TEDMED: We’re excited to have you and USP join the TEDMED Community, especially on the occasion of such a monumental milestone – USP’s 200th anniversary.

Ronald T. Piervincenzi: Thank you. I’m thrilled to introduce USP to TEDMED’s audience and look forward to meeting attendees in Boston in March.

TM: What made you choose TEDMED to celebrate this milestone anniversary?

RP: Today, we are observing an unprecedented transformation in healthcare. USP’s 200-year legacy is built on trust and confidence in healthcare systems and anticipating and responding to emerging health challenges. Our founders joined together in 1820 to protect patients from a prevalence of poor-quality medical products. The backdrop today is different in scale, geography, modalities and many other factors. But the value of our work is the same. We are exploring how to build trust in future medical breakthroughs. There are many in the TEDMED community we can learn from and engage with as we imagine what the future holds.

TM: That’s exactly what TEDMED is all about! Let’s dive in. What is a pharmacopeia and what does USP do?

RP: Simply put a pharmacopeia is an official publication that includes a list of medicinal drugs and contains how those medicines are to be prepared, directions for their use, and assays to assess medicinal quality. The United States Pharmacopeia–National Formulary, which USP publishes, is the official quality standard for medicines marketed in the U.S. It is also used in over 140 other countries. USP is the leading independent scientific nonprofit organization that collaborates with the world’s top experts in health and science to develop quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements, and food ingredients. Through our standards, advocacy and capability building, USP helps increase the availability of quality medicines, supplements and food for billions of people worldwide. As the world gets smaller and more connected, quality issues affect everyone. Diseases travel. Drug resistance grows. Fake medicines kill. The foundation of quality we’re building helps address these and other global health challenges. Whether decreasing the prevalence of substandard and poor-quality medicines or helping to curb antimicrobial resistance, we’re there across 10 global sites working to protect the health of people all over the world.

TM: This seems like a very modern approach to medicine. Why did the U.S. need a pharmacopeia in 1820?

RP: Today, people trust U.S. medicines to be among the safest in the world but that wasn’t always true. In 1820, the U.S. was a new country. Medicines were made individually and differently by physicians or apothecaries. There were no regulations or more importantly, standards, to ensure that what you received in one city was the same as another. A medicine’s strength, quality, and even its identity varied widely depending on where it was made. Simply put, before our founding in 1820, there was no way to ensure that what was on the medicine label was what was actually in the bottle. Our founders—11 independent, forward-looking physicians— were concerned about this lack of uniformity and acted to protect patients from poor-quality medicines. Three of our founders were not only physicians, but also U.S. Senators—they were the voice that the U.S. needed to ensure the quality of medicines Americans used. They established the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, which published the first U.S. Pharmacopeia. A great deal has changed since our founding but the importance of having quality standards for medicines and other new therapies remains—now, our work is much more global.

Image courtesy of USP

TM: This year’s TEDMED theme, “Make Way for Wonder,” explores how medicine and healthcare is changing. Is that a theme that resonates with you?

RP: Absolutely. Wonder and scientific discovery makes medical breakthroughs possible. But trust makes them popular. More than 800 independent volunteer scientists contribute their expertise to develop and approve USP’s standards. They help to build trust by setting clear quality expectations for medicines, dietary supplements, and foods. In turn, USP standards help manufacturers worldwide bring more quality and affordable products to market, which benefits people everywhere. A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that on average, drugs with a USP public quality standard had approximately 50% more generic manufacturers compared with medicines without such a standard. The study also found that quality standards helped facilitate pharmaceutical competition and reduce prescription drug costs in the U.S.

Image courtesy of USP

TM: How does a 200-year-old organization prepare for the future?

RP: New technologies and treatments—precision medicine, digital therapeutics, 3D printing, immunotherapy, gene and stem cell therapies, and artificial intelligence—have arrived or are on their way. As we prepare for dramatic breakthroughs, we must work to ensure trust and quality are established as a part of these advances. Unfortunately, trust broadly is in a precarious position across sectors. Our history has taught us that for an innovation to become a widespread reality, both quality and trust are critical to its broad acceptance. USP together with hundreds of our stakeholder organizations and partners are already working to build confidence in future breakthroughs and to anticipate and address where the gaps will be. We know that when a USP public standard is available, we help manufacturers be better able to adopt the new technology, which is often a significant cost savings. In addition to conducting workshops and roundtables on topics such as cell and gene therapies and digital therapeutics, USP is working with the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and more than 100 leaders from health and science worldwide to explore the developments and role that trust will play in shaping people’s health between now and 2040. We will explore the project’s findings from this “Trust CoLab” with the TEDMED 2020 Community.

Image courtesy of USP

TM: We’ll look forward to learning more about the Trust CoLab. Until then, what else should the TEDMED Community know about USP?

RP: I mentioned our volunteer scientists earlier. I invite TEDMED community members who are committed to making the world healthier, being scientifically rigorous, and working independently from politics or the private sector, to consider becoming a Champion of Trust. They can learn more by visiting our website or by stopping by the USP Lounge in the Social Hub at TEDMED. I also encourage everyone to also learn more about USP’s past, present and future and opportunities for other collaborations with us at www.usp.org/200.

TM: Thank you, Ron and very best wishes on the beginning of USP’s third century.

Looking Forward to TEDMED 2020 with the Editorial Advisory Board

The 2020 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) is comprised of leading experts in fields spanning the spectrum of health and medicine. They have played an important role in helping to identify the topics, themes, Speakers and Innovators that will make up the TEDMED program this year. The members of the EAB are invaluable members of the TEDMED Community and are instrumental in shaping TEDMED 2020.

Given their unique role in helping to inform the TEDMED program, we wanted to know what they’re excited to experience at TEDMED this year and which speakers they are looking forward to meeting. Below are some of their responses – and we want to hear from you as well. Be sure to tag us in your responses on Twitter (@TEDMED), and on Facebook and Instagram (@TEDMEDcommunity).

Throughout the 2.5 days of TEDMED you will see the EAB in action, hosting Sessions, moderating Meetup Discussions, participating in Partner events, watching TEDMED Talks and enjoying the evening celebrations. If you haven’t registered yet for TEDMED 2020, join the EAB and the rest of the delegation before space runs out.


What are you most excited for at TEDMED 2020 and why?

“I’m excited for the energy and creativity that always sparkles from the TEDMED stage – and excited to see this wonderful program in its new Boston location!”-Pam Belluck, Health & Science Writer, New York Times

“As someone who grew up in ‘The Hub’, I have a ton of hometown pride and am thrilled for Boston to help forge the worldwide connections that form at TEDMED.”-Roxanne Khamsi, Independent Journalist

“Reconnecting with old colleagues and making many new friends!”- Sara Gorman, PhD, MPH, Director, High School Programming, Jed Foundation

Which TEDMED 2020 Speaker are you most looking forward to and why?

“Gokul Upadhyayula. Why?—biological sciences are in the midst of an imaging revolution and Gokul is leading the way; the machines he builds, the images he captures and the movies he creates are the very definition of wonder.”-Adam Goulburn, PhD, General Partner, Lux Capital

“Katherine Eban is one of the most amazing investigative journalists focused on medicine, the pharmaceutical industry and our modern quest for health. Her new book is fantastic — a must read for any TEDMEDer!”-Udaya Patnaik, Entrepreneur and Consultant

“Thjis Biersteker. This is the artist for our time. Combining data, technology and artistic installations to visualize the impact of climate change. Thjis proudly answers the common refrain of ‘I need to see it to believe it’ mentality. I’m so excited to see him talk about his vision, process and highlight the works he’s most proud of.”-Vanessa Ruiz, Creative Director, Wolters Kluwer Health; Founder, Street Academy

“Anne Basting—we are all aging.”-Howard Bauchner, MD, Editor in Chief of JAMA and the JAMA Network


We look forward to seeing you soon in Boston, MA. If you plan on joining us, be sure to register soon!

What Does “When I Make Way For Wonder Mean to You?”

As we approach TEDMED 2020 we want to know what happens when you make way for wonder. We spent a lot of time earlier this year thinking about wonder—what it means and what creates wonder. Now we are contemplating what happens when we make way for it?


To help everyone begin to brainstorm what it means when they make way for wonder, we have compiled a few questions.

  • Have you had any transformative moments when you have taken the time to wonder?
  • What emotions or thoughts arise when you make way for wonder?
  • How has wonder impacted your work?
  • How would you describe wonder?

We also asked the members of our 2020 Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) what happens when they make way for wonder. You can see some of their answers below.

Now we want to hear from our larger TEDMED community! Tag us on Twitter (@TEDMED) and on Facebook and Instagram (TEDMEDcommunity) with your answers. Remember be creative, there is no right or wrong answer.

When I make way for wonder…

“People all over the world will benefit from better health.”- Sara Gorman, PhD, MPH, Director, High School Programming, Jed Foundation

When I make way for wonder..

“I think about if there is a way to reach consensus on health care delivery in the U.S. that works for the majority of the people.”-Howard Bauchner, MD, Editor in Chief, JAMA and The JAMA Network

When I make way for wonder…

“Discovery, innovation and progress exponentially accelerate.”-Adam Goulburn, PhD, General Partner, Lux Capital


Join us as we experience the power and possibilities that come to us when we make way for wonder this March 2-4 in Boston,MA. Register today!

Call for TEDMED 2020 Artist

At the heart of TEDMED’s mission is the quest for a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. As tools for discovery, we recognize the essential roles that both science and art play in this pursuit. And yet, while science is rarely underappreciated in this search, art can often be overlooked. We believe that art serves an important role as a catalyst for innovation and creativity and provides the inspiration needed to birth new questions and new paths for scientific research. Art and science are inevitably intertwined, serving as inspiration for one another and constantly propelling us toward progress.

The roles that both science and art play in our health has been beautifully illustrated time and time again from our stage. At TEDMED 2018, Sound Alchemist, Yoko K. Sen, shared how dissonant sounds from hospital environments can become overwhelming to patients and can even run antithetical to the healing process. Yoko has dedicated her musical talents toward a better understanding of how sound impacts our emotions and she works to transform the auditory environment of hospitals with soothing melodies and tones. She’s the founder of Sen Sound, a social enterprise that aims to change the soundscape of medical spaces.

Similarly, award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon discussed how we can rethink the design of spaces so that they emulate the surrounding environment, which has a positive impact on the occupants. Amanda and her team found that “biophilic buildings” – structures that embrace and borrow features found in the natural world – create spaces in which people are happier, healthier and more productive.

In 2018, the direct link between science and art was perhaps most strongly depicted in Marlène Oliver’s talk and art installation. Using imaging from MRIs and CT scans, she creates art that allows us to see how our digital selves exist in an abstract world of data. Every year, artists from across the artistic spectrum, contribute their talent and perspective to our program,  such as pianist Richard Kogan, painter Ted Meyer, art curator Christine McNabb, documentarian Holly Morris, improv performers Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, chef John La Puma, photographer Kitra Cahana, musician Gerardo Contino, and many more.  The talks themselves are also works of art. Each speaker carefully crafts their talk to share a unique gift with the TEDMED community. Even our speakers themselves become art, because an important part of our event design each year is to work with artists who create portraits of our speakers.

To come full circle, our 2018 portrait artist Marlene Morales Tollet is a perfect example of the art and science intersecting. Marlene is both a practicing ophthalmologist, specializing in comprehensive ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgery and an artist. We’ve been lucky to work with amazing artistic talent throughout the years, from widely acclaimed figures like Hanoch Piven and Victor Juhasz, to a collaborative project created by several RISD art students, to the fantastic work of Gabriel Gutierrez and Lauren Hess who were chosen from our community. These artists are invited to TEDMED and become an important part of our Delegation. Find out more about their beautiful work here.

LOOKING FOR THIS YEAR’S ARTIST
Again this year, we’re excited to begin a search for the artist or artists who will help us bring this year’s speaker portraits to life. As part of our search, we’re officially accepting artist nominations and applications for TEDMED 2020.

Just as every year, our chosen artist or artists will join our community for 3 days in Boston, MA at The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, March 2-4 for TEDMED 2020 (travel and accommodations covered by TEDMED).  If you are interested, or know someone who might be, read on!

ELIGIBILITY AND TIME FRAME
This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:

  • Experience in the medical community
  • Experience working with patients
  • A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine

ABOUT THE PROJECT
The artist will need to produce roughly 50 portraits over the course of the next few months. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.

The work will take place between November 2019 – January 2020.

HOW TO APPLY
To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to art@tedmed.com. Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.

Application deadline: Midnight, October 4, 2019.