Ask Ken Audus, dean of the Kansas University School of Pharmacy, about KU’s ability to develop new drugs and spin them off into successful companies, and he’ll suggest a look at the back wall of the museum in the school’s new building.
It turns out that KU’s combination of pharmaceutical research and entrepreneurship really goes all the way back to Lucius Elmer Sayre, the school’s first dean. Sayre came to Kansas in 1885, and his work in Bailey Hall led to the development of corn oil as a cooking product.
Val Stella, a KU distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, said the School of Pharmacy has a rich history of commercializing drug research done on the KU campus, thanks in large part to the contributions of “the father of physical pharmacy,” Takeru Higuchi, a regents distinguished professor at KU from 1967 until his retirement in 1983. During his career, Higuchi was awarded more than 50 patents.
“One of the reasons he came down here from Wisconsin was because Wisconsin was limiting what he could do,” Stella said. “I don’t know if KU knew what they were getting themselves into.”
Higuchi did some work for Alza Corp., a pharmaceutical company started by Alejandro Zaffaroni. Working out of the building that now bears his name on KU’s West Campus, Higuchi obtained several patents related to the company’s osmotic drug delivery systems.
Ed Smissman, a medicinal chemist and KU distinguished professor, also played a role in developing KU’s West Campus, Audus said. After coming to KU in 1960, he helped develop the graduate program in medicinal chemistry and helped KU attract an NIH Health Sciences Achievement Award, resulting in the construction of McCollum Laboratories on KU’s West Campus.
“This West Campus really exists because of Tak Higuchi and Ed Smissman and (former vice chancellor and dean) Howard Mossberg,” Audus said. “They all saw it coming.”
— Higher education reporter Andy Hyland can be reached at 832-6388. Follow him at Twitter.com/LJW_KU.