National Academies Press: OpenBook

Memorial Tributes: Volume 20 (2016)

Chapter: ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI

« Previous: MAX L. WILLIAMS JR.
Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×

image

Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×

ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI

1923–2014

Elected in 1997

“For contributions to human health care through creating and forging collaborations between the scientific and engineering disciplines.”

BY HOWIE ROSEN

ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI, an innovator in drug delivery systems and biotechnology and generous humanitarian, died peacefully at home on March 1, 2014, in Atherton, California. He was 91. Dr. Zaffaroni was widely regarded as a visionary who left a positive impact on the lives of millions through the invention of innovative medical technology.

He was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, February 27, 1923. He studied medicine in his home country and was accepted to pursue a PhD in biochemistry at Harvard. He was also awarded a scholarship through the Institute of International Education in 1945 to study at the University of Rochester. He took a US military cargo ship to New York in the waning days of World War II and, after visiting both universities, he decided to attend Rochester as it offered him his own laboratory and the freedom to pursue his interest in biochemistry and steroid research. His research at Rochester resulted in the development of the “Zaffaroni technique,” a method using paper chromatography to isolate steroids. It became an essential analytical tool and led to the first synthesis of cortisone by scientists at Upjohn Company. He received his PhD in biochemistry in 1949.

In 1951, after finishing a National Institutes of Health fellowship, he turned down multiple job offers in academia and with

Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×

major pharmaceutical companies to join a small, privately held Mexican chemical company, Syntex S.A. In 1956, after just five years, he was elected executive vice president and director of Syntex Corporation. He played a key role, beginning in 1962, in bringing Syntex to the United States and establishing it as the first pharmaceutical company on the West Coast. He led the transformation of the firm into a global pharmaceutical corporation that pioneered the development of therapeutic corticosteroids and the birth control pill. Eventually he became president of Syntex Laboratories and director of research.

In 1968 he left Syntex to found ALZA Corporation (the name is formed from the first two letters of his first and last names). ALZA pioneered new technologies for drug delivery. Most drugs at the time were administered through simple pills or injections. The concept of “drug delivery” was so novel that one pharmaceutical executive thought that ALZA’s product was a fleet of trucks. As part of the negotiations of Dr. Zaffaroni’s departure from Syntex, he offered Syntex a 25 percent stake in the new startup. In 1969, it became the first US company to go public without revenues or positive earnings. The new methods developed by ALZA included transdermal patches for nicotine, nitroglycerin, fentanyl, and scopolamine (first marketed in 1981); insertable devices (first marketed in 1974); and an oral controlled release system (OROS for oral osmotic) that was licensed to Pfizer for a cardiovascular drug and became its first billion-dollar therapeutic when introduced in 1991. OROS technology was used in more than ten other commercial products.

ALZA was the first of Dr. Zaffaroni’s nine companies built around novel technologies and 130 patented processes for drug delivery, high-speed genome scanning, drug discovery, and innovative materials development for a wide variety of industries. These companies have produced a multitude of successful platform technologies from which further medicines, devices, and materials have been developed. For example, Affymetrix, a company he cofounded in 1991, was a pioneer in developing DNA chips, more formally known as microarrays. Those chips revolutionized genetic studies, allowing many

Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×

genes to be analyzed at once. They are now widely used in studies aimed at finding genetic variants linked to different diseases.

Dr. Zaffaroni attributed his legendary productivity to his many talented colleagues and the highly collaborative work culture he encouraged. His colleagues have recalled him as a supportive supervisor who often gave significant responsibility to young people, some fresh out of college. There are two themes that permeated Dr. Zaffaroni’s career—the absolute requirement to create an environment where individuals had freedom to innovate and the vision to see the intersection between seemingly disparate technical fields.

Building on the success of his entrepreneurial pursuits, Dr. Zaffaroni and his wife Lida gave generously to humanitarian causes. The Zaffaroni Foundation has provided grants for medical research, higher education, scholarships, and the construction and ongoing support of the Moldaw-Zaffaroni Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula located in East Palo Alto, CA.

The $10 million endowed Alejandro and Lida Zaffaroni Scholarship and Fellowship Program at Stanford University, which is partly funded by gifts from donors who credit Dr. Zaffaroni with providing inspiration, mentorship, and friendship throughout their careers, provides students, especially those from Latin America, with undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships. The Zaffaronis were also major donors to the Lida and Alejandro Zaffaroni Breast Imaging Center at the Stanford Cancer Center.

Numerous awards and honors are a testament to Dr. Zaffaroni’s accomplishments. Notably, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed by President Bill Clinton (1995). Other prominent honors include induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at the Smithsonian Institution (2012), the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service (2008), the Biotech Hall of Fame Award from the Life Sciences Foundation, the Biotechnology Heritage Award from the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the

Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×

Biotechnology Industry Organization (2006), the Bower Award for Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute (2005), the Gregory Pincus Award from the Worcester Foundation (2005), the Winthrop-Sears Medal from the Chemists’ Club (2004), the UCSF Medal from the University of California, San Francisco (2002), first recipient of the Lester Center Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (1998), the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists (1979), and the President’s Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science (1978).

Dr. Zaffaroni’s professional associations included, in addition to the NAE, the National Academy of Sciences (1977) and the Institute of Medicine (1978). He was also a member of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine Advisory Council at Stanford University, the Stanford University Hospital Board of Directors, the Division of Biological Sciences Advisory Council at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sustaining Fellows, and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1973), and American Academy of Pharmaceutical Research and Science (1973).

Dr. Zaffaroni is survived by his wife Lida, son Alejandro and daughter-in-law Leah, daughter Elisa, and two grandchildren, Alejandro Peter and Charles A. Zaffaroni.

References

The Almanac, Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, March 12, 2014.

Nature, Vol. 508, p. 187, April 10, 2014.

The New York Times, p. A23, March 6, 2014.

BioCentury, March 24, 2014.

LSF Magazine, pp. 24–33, Fall 2012; pp. 26–41, Winter 2013.

Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×
Page 376
Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×
Page 377
Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×
Page 378
Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×
Page 379
Suggested Citation:"ALEJANDRO ZAFFARONI." National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Memorial Tributes: Volume 20. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23394.
×
Page 380
Next: APPENDIX »
Memorial Tributes: Volume 20 Get This Book
×
Buy Hardback | $75.00 Buy Ebook | $59.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

This is the 20th Volume in the series Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and foreign associates. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased. Through its members and foreign associates, the Academy carries out the responsibilities for which it was established in 1964.

Under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering was formed as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. Members are elected on the basis of significant contributions to engineering theory and practice and to the literature of engineering or on the basis of demonstrated unusual accomplishments in the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology. The National Academies share a responsibility to advise the federal government on matters of science and technology. The expertise and credibility that the National Academy of Engineering brings to that task stem directly from the abilities, interests, and achievements of our members and foreign associates, our colleagues and friends, whose special gifts we remember in this book.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!