Kansas University professor Takeru Higuchi educator, businessman, philanthropist put together a pharmaceutical chemistry research empire on West Campus and proved that business and academia can form lucrative unions.
Higuchi's work is a textbook example of how partnerships between state university researchers and private investors can capitalize on innovations in science and technology and be a major force in Kansas' economic development.
"Every university is trying to attact someone with his bent of 20 years ago," said Howard Mossberg, dean of the School of Pharmacy. "He was an unusual mixture, an academic entrepreneur. What we're discovering is that it's a unique mix."
Higuchi, who died in 1987, was one of the people whose creative energy during life carried on after death. A measure of his success is growth of the KU Higuchi Biosciences Center and related for-profit research companies on KU's West Campus and in the Oread West Research Park.
"IT'S TAKING what comes naturally at the university in terms of one of our strong suits and contributing to economic development at the same time," said Frances Horowitz, KU vice chancellor for research, graduate students and public service.
Although by no means a Silicon Valley, the West Campus operation has been a boost to the Lawrence economy, created research opportunities and added to KU's international prestige. Millions of dollars flow into research programs there each year.
Higuchi, who joined the university faculty in 1967, put his economic development theory into action a year after his arrival. He convinced the ALZA Corp., a California pharmaceutical research company, to relocate to Lawrence.
In 1972, Higuchi left ALZA to form INTERx Research Corp., a private research enterprise devoted to the study of drug delivery systems, specifically chemical and pharmaceutical means of administering drugs more effectively.
INTERx, acknowledged as a model university-industry high-tech partnership, merged with pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. of Rahway, N.J., in 1980. INTERx will triple its work space upon completion of a $1.6 million addition on West Campus.
HIGUCHI founded for-profit Oread Laboratories in 1983 to market discoveries by KU researchers. Oread has grown from a "paper shell" to a company ripe for expansion with 40 employees conducting $2 million in economic activity a year, Mossberg said.
"We don't expect Oread to be the last company formed that has potential in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics and the use of chemistry to cope with man and animals," Mossberg said. "We have just started the growth phase in the community."
The KU School of Pharmacy supports the pharmaceutical operation at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctorate level. The school operates one of the country's largest research and graduate study programs in pharmaceutical sciences.
In the past decade, the amount of annual budgetary support from external sources for research in the pharmacy school has more than tripled from slightly under $2 million to more than $6 million a year, Mossberg said.
PROMPTED IN part by Higuchi's early success, the Legislature provided financing in 1983 for the creation of a Center of Excellence at KU and two other state universities. At KU, officials formed the Center for Bioanalytical Research.
That research entity has been swallowed by an umbrella organization named the Higuchi Biosciences Center. There are currently two Centers of Excellence in the Higuchi organization. Three more are expected to be in operation by 1992.
The Center for Bioanalytical Research focuses on development of methods to analyze compounds and contaminants in living systems. Formed in 1989, the goal of the Center of Drug Delivery Research is creation of pharmaceutical-based products.
The three planned centers are the Center for Drug Design, Metabolism and Toxicity; Center for Molecular Engineering and Immunology; and Center for Neuroscience Research. Funding for the centers comes from state, federal and industry sources.
MOSSBERG SAID KU researchers will inevitably become involved in pharmaceutical production, even if it's only on a small scale. Establishment of a pharmaceutical production facility in Lawrence or eastern Kansas is a goal, he said.
"The question arises: Can we attract a big player to locate here among us within the next several years?" Mossberg asked. "That question has been addressed and will continue to be addressed by approaching companies worldwide."
"It's pretty generic at the moment, but corporations have been asked what their interest might be. It's a goal to make sure we create an image in their minds that they will take a peek at this community as a potential area," he said.