When explaining what they do, officials at Kansas University's Center for Bioanalytical Research, or CBAR, must struggle to keep from slipping into technical jargon.
"What we do is probably the most technical of all of the industries, except for the aerospace industry," says Christopher M. Riley, a KU associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy practice.
But Riley, CBAR's new director, and Richard S. Givens, the former director, boil down CBAR's mission into simple terms: They make the highly technical tools pharmaceutical companies need to develop drugs.
"So you may not necessarily be developing the drugs themselves," Riley said. "But we would be developing devices and systems which would aid in the developing the drugs themselves. An analogy would be that a company that makes robots helps the car industry, even though the car industry doesn't sell robots."
CBAR'S MAIN mission is economic development for the state and for the Lawrence area, Riley said.
"Activities are very closely associated with the activities of Oread Labs, which is the commercial company that is associated with CBAR," he said. "As they are growing, we are growing at the same time. It has been mutually beneficial."
Givens explained that CBAR serves as the research arm of Oread Labs.
"We'll continue to work with Oread Labs to commercialize what we've patented and developed," he said.
Givens said about 45 people, including faculty, post-doctoral students and graduate students, work at the center, which is spread among Malott Hall and Haworth Hall on the main campus and McCollum Labs on west campus.
RILEY SAID things have changed at CBAR in the last couple of years. It is now a part of the Higuchi Biosciences Center, an umbrella organization that is envisioned eventually to include five such centers.
Currently the Higuchi Biosciences Center now oversees CBAR, the Center for Drug Delivery and the Center for Biomedical Research.
CBAR, which has a budget of just over $2 million, now receives about $1.1 million from Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. The rest comes from private and public grants, Riley said.
He said CBAR will continue to become allied with the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.
"The pharmaceutical industry in the last five years has experienced a lot of change," Riley said. "There have been a lot of mergers."
Many medium-sized companies have merged with very large companies, and some observers have suggested there may be only a handful of pharmaceutical companies by the turn of the century, he said.
THE COMPANIES that are associated with universities that have strong chemistry and pharmaceutical departments are going to be better positioned, he said.
"I think that's where we can make a big impact in CBAR," he said.
Riley said some departments at KU have always had a strong association with the pharmaceutical industry. For example, INTERx Research Corp., located on KU's West Campus, is owned by Merck & Co.
CBAR has had research contracts with Glaxco, a British-based company; Sterling Drugs, a subsidiary of Eastman-Kodak; Hoffmann-LaRoche; and Marion Merrell Dow, based in Kansas City, Mo.
"A lot of the research with these companies is truly collaborative," he said. "You're working closely with the company's scientists. There's a lot of interchange."
ONE OF THE benefits of having the center in the area is that graduates of KU's pharmaceutical and chemistry departments can stay in the area to work.
"For a long time, Ph.D.s would be trained here, because this is one of the big centers for training people in analytical chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry," he said. "They would move to the East Coast. It's nice for people to be able to work locally. . . . It's good for the economy to have highly trained people staying in the state of Kansas."
CBAR was one of the orginal three centers of excellence funded by the Legislature in 1984, Givens said.
"This center's goal is to develop new techology in bioanalysis and the goals were to develop methodology that could be used for analyzing drugs or biologically important molecules in what we call a biological matrix," Givens said. "That means blood, body fluids or tissues or other types of environmentally important areas."
GIVENS SAID the goals were to be carried out by setting up multidisciplinary research projects with scientists in other departments, starting with chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry.
Since its start, the center has included the departments of microbiology and biochemistry, Givens said.
"So we have four separate departments that are all working together," he said.
Another goal was to further enhance the reputation of the university in bionanalytical chemistry, research, education and training, he said.
The late Tak Higuchi, a world-reknowned KU professor of pharmacology, founded the center.
Givens, who just finished a two-year stint as director, said Riley will run it for four years. The center's director is elected by the research faculty in the center.
THE FUTURE probably will see the center moving more toward biological methods of analysis, Givens said.
"I think we'll be getting into areas where we'll be using more sensitive and selective techniques for analysis," he said.
Workshops will be developed to train people from industry and academia in separating mixtures into their components using high-performance liquid chromatography, he said.
"We've been developing a national and international reputation for our work in that area," he said.
Givens said CBAR is working to develop new fluorescent tagging agents to identify the parts in the mixtures.
"The kinds of products we come out with are fluorogenic reagents," Givens said. "When they react with peptides or proteins, they become flourescent and you can detect them."