01 Sep Van Campen reviving UW's drug-development related education
Madison, Wis. — It goes without saying: Life often doesn’t turn out as planned. Lynn Van Campen, Ph.D., a prominent scientist, leader and manager in the pharmaceutical industry, really did intend to retire several years ago following a highly successful and fulfilling career. After nearly 30 years of experience in building and leading pharmaceutical development in companies both big and small in Connecticut, Colorado and California, Van Campen was ready to pursue some more personal dreams of a less scientific nature.
Winding down an intense career, she happily accepted an invitation to join the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Pharmacy Board of Visitors. A graduate of UW (she earned her master of science degree in pharmaceutics in 1979 and her Ph.D. in pharmaceutics in 1981), Van Campen felt a strong sense of loyalty. Shortly thereafter, she was asked by the school to offer her valued insight in the search for candidates to lead a revival of the Pharmaceutical Experiment Station at the school and was pleased to help. After all, her former mentor, professor Emeritus George Zografi, was chairing the search committee for the station’s director.
“I was asked, along with several other UW Pharmacy alumni, to work with a few of the faculty in helping to develop a strategy for the station. What should their mission be to help serve academia and industry?” recounts Van Campen. Problem is, every time she suggested a few names for the director’s position, Zografi gently suggested that she should consider that very position.
Picnic Point is part of the story
Good thing Zografi was persistent. He continued the national search and narrowed it down to three final candidates. But as fate would have it, Van Campen reconnected with a former colleague (and romantic interest) Ñ UW professor of pharmacy Dexter Northrop Ñ during the time she spent working with the advisory board. In a stunning move, Northrop lured her into a bicycle ride to the end of Picnic Point early one evening at moonrise, knelt down on a boat cushion conveniently washed ashore and proposed to her. The two decided to marry, prompting her commitment to remain in Madison for a while.
Van Campen and Northrop recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary, and now, just to show that some stories do have a happy ending, she also got the job and now is sitting in the director’s office at the station.
‘The Station’ began in 1913
The Lenor Zeeh Pharmaceutical Experiment Station (in campus shorthand often referred to as “the station”) is housed in the state-of-the-art Rennebohm Hall Ñ just across the street from the UW Hospital and Clinics on the west end of campus. Originally created in 1913, the station flourished in its first 20 years of existence as the research branch of the UW School of Pharmacy.
Described in the history books as a cooperative experiment between the UW pharmacy program and the USDA, the station supplied and processed plants to support drug formulation research and investigation into commercial production of plant-derived drugs. But during the Depression, the station couldn’t maintain support and eventually closed its doors.
Zografi, who has been instrumentally involved with the station throughout its recent history, recounts the slow process of resurrecting the station. “UW investigators researching molecules that had potential as drugs would periodically ask the School of Pharmacy for help in their studies of these molecules,” he says. “And while pharmacy faculty continued to help by answering their questions, there was no formal mechanism in place for laboratory support of their research.”
Also lacking for a long time were the resources and the space for the laboratory necessary to support the station.
The gift of Lenor Zeeh
When Rennebohm Hall officially opened its doors in September of 2001, the requisite space became available. And in honor of Lenor Zeeh (UW School of Pharmacy Class of 1936), a dedicated pharmacist and eventual vice president of the Rennebohm organization who served the pharmacy profession in the state of Wisconsin for the better part of five decades, the Rennebohm Foundation presented a generous gift. It granted the School of Pharmacy $1.5 million for the creation of the Zeeh Pharmaceutical Experiment Station. After decades of dormancy, the station was reopened in 2003.
Today the station is clear in its mission: Its main initiatives focus on education and service to local discovery research. “We are interested in educating not only students but scientists in the pharmaceutical industry as well,” says Zografi. “Our primary role is to try to assist investigators at the UW and across Wisconsin to bring their discoveries to fruition as potential drugs.”
As an academic institution, one of the station’s key goals is to develop and sponsor an educational program focusing on the process and science of drug development. At the present time the station has introduced the first of several new short courses in drug development, titled “Applied Drug Development: Preclinical and Drug Product Design Strategies,” in conjunction with the well-established program of outreach education pioneered by the extension services in pharmacy. Many of their courses involve collaboration with pharmacy faculty on site, in addition to adjunct faculty brought in from industry. Although the concept of offering short courses and related conferences has been around for more than 40 years, explains Van Campen, the actual courses are regularly updated to reflect the changing times and technologies in pharmaceutical research and development.
What the future may hold
Looking ahead, Van Campen and her colleagues at the station hope to offer a program specifically for industry scientists who continue to work full time.
“There’s a growing trend now to offer such opportunities,” she acknowledges, “since it’s an effective way to pursue additional education for those who are already working.”
The idea is to educate those in the corporate world, from the young scientist to the experienced technical manager who work in or in conjunction with drug development, about the science of pharmaceutical drug development. A key component of the program would be a laboratory or “practicum” course to provide participants with hands-on practice with some of the most useful and important kinds of experiments conducted by pharmaceutical scientists to characterize potential drug candidates and products.
“Scientists will be able to obtain recognized certification from a program constructed from these courses,” says Van Campen. “Customized to the individual’s needs, this program will enable them to be much more effective at what they do and more versatile within their careers.”
Collaborating with other researchers
The other major initiative of the station involves reaching out to research laboratories on the UW campus and beyond. Van Campen does not need to look too far for potential collaborations and clients; the wealth of scientific and medical research that incorporates pharmaceutical agents and drug development on the UW campus provides an ample pool. Yet the off-campus corporate community is growing, and the station intends to help reinforce its growth as well.
The station currently has several projects under way with researchers on campus, such as those with the UW Medical School. Much of this research is directed toward the support of novel anticancer compounds and is conducted across several labs including the UW Comprehensive Cancer Center and the School of Pharmacy. Most recently, the UW Department of Surgery submitted a grant application that includes support for the role played by the station. The project involves a novel form of drug delivery to promote more successful surgical reattachment of limbs or appendages.
The station also provides laboratory services that help newly established pharmaceutical companies. “We always try to emphasize that our reason for being is to enhance the quality of opportunities for the translation of research on campus to drug products,” says Zografi.
A key component to the interaction between the Station and its collaborators is the involvement of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which Van Campen says sponsors several of its early-stage programs.
“WARF has come to us for the support we can provide newly patented work and is now sponsoring the station’s support of several early-stage programs that focus on the development of anticancer and antiviral agents.”
Michael Falk, director of intellectual property at WARF, says that WARF is always striving to help move early stage research closer to the marketplace, and the station is ideally suited to helping develop promising therapeutics and drugs.
“We have pursued a couple of projects that have provided great results and really bolstered the data we need to supply for the purpose of obtaining high-quality patents and attracting potential licensees,” says Falk. “As for our goal in getting interesting and potentially important campus research out to the public, and for the greater good of the state of Wisconsin, the station is ideally suited for that kind of translational work. The station is a great resource for UW startups and spin-off companies.”
Connecting with industry
The station currently has outside contracts with several large and small companies, both regionally and on the East Coast. When looking outside the UW network, there is no doubt that Van Campen’s wide-reaching connection within the pharmaceutical industry and her years of experience both as a scientist and manager are valuable.
“I have so many colleagues out there in the industry; it’s easy to make connections,” she says. Although she points out that it takes time to cultivate these relationships into station assignments, it hasn’t been much of a struggle to get them established.
As for the reception to the station since Van Campen has taken the helm, she is pleased. “I feel that we’ve gotten tremendous support from the School of Pharmacy and WARF, and broad visibility through the Office of Corporate Relations. The projects that we’re beginning to be identified with across campus have only increased our visibility.”
She adds with a laugh, “We may be at risk at becoming over-committed, but that’s a problem I’m pleased to solve.”