Delivering Gifts and Novel Drugs

Nipun Davar, PhD ’96, MSc, MBA, believes in giving back. The pharmaceutical scientist from India is grateful for the education he received at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the opportunities he has been offered.

Nipun Davar, PhD, MSc, MBAThrough his participation in the School’s David Stewart Associates giving society, which recognizes those making gifts or pledges of $1,000 or more, he hopes to make it easier for talented young scientists to complete their pharmacy studies.

In the 15 years since receiving his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences at the School, Davar has made a name for himself in the field of drug delivery. Currently vice president of pharmaceutical sciences at Transcept Pharmaceuticals in Richmond, Calif., Davar oversees the pharmaceutical development of new drugs and novel delivery systems. His primary current project is Intermezzo, a low-dose sublingual therapy for middle-of-the-night insomnia. Intermezzo is in the final stages of review by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I am fortunate to be in the business of developing new products that can help people,” Davar says. “It’s not only interesting from a technical point of view, it’s very rewarding when you come up with something that can really help relieve suffering.”

Through his previous work at Alza Corp., bought by Johnson & Johnson for $10.5 billion in 2001, Davar found his niche developing drugs that act on the central nervous system.

“Alza was considered a mecca of drug delivery development, with more than 2,500 patents,” Davar says. “It was a dream come true for a young scientist to join this team that was super high-caliber.”

While at Alza, he was part of the group that developed applications for OROS®, an osmotic drug delivery technology that can result in an improved safety profile, stable drug concentrations, uniform drug effects, and reduced dosing frequency. OROS® technology also has facilitated the use of an effective starting dose, without the need for dose titration. This allows patients to experience symptom relief much more quickly, he says, and improves drug compliance.

Two of the drugs Davar worked on were Jurnista (OROS® hydromorphone), an extended-release painkiller for cancer patients, and Invega (OROS® paliperidone), an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia. Davar was team leader on the Jurnista project, managing more than 70 people on several continents.

While at Johnson & Johnson, Davar’s mentor, Howard Rosen, encouraged him to pursue an MBA, which Davar obtained from the University of Pennsylvania’a Wharton School. A large part of his work involves developing products that are sufficiently unique to qualify for patents, thus protecting them from competition. “I work alongside the patent attorneys,” he says.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” adds Davar. “One thing led to another in terms of my career. I found people along the way who helped me achieve my educational goals.”

A native of New Delhi, Davar studied at the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India. After receiving his pharmacy degree, he immigrated to the United States in 1990 to pursue a master’s at the University of Toledo School of Pharmacy.

He describes the culture shock of leaving a city of 15 million people and arriving in an American city of 300,000. It was his first plane trip, and quite a long one, and he landed late at night. “I got a ride to the college, and school hadn’t started yet, so only the athletes were on campus,” he says. “I got in the elevator with some 300-pound football players and thought to myself, “If one of these guys kills me, no one will know who I am.”

He managed to survive Toledo, fortunately, and while considering where to enroll for his doctoral studies he happened to meet Larry Augsburger, PhD, at the time a professor of industrial pharmacy and therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. That meeting persuaded Davar to study at Maryland, and Augsburger, now professor emeritus, became an important mentor to him.

“I was new to research,” says Davar, “and Dr. Augsburger had an uncanny ability to balance guidance and freedom.” Augsburger used his contacts at Novartis to help Davar get a summer job, and Davar was allowed to complete his doctoral studies in the Novartis lab, instead of in Pharmacy Hall.

“Because of that unique transitional phase between academia and industry, I got world-class technical knowledge,” says Davar. “I also learned how to navigate independently while collaborating with various stakeholders in the industry-academia environment.”

An important lesson was that to succeed in drug development in the corporate environment, one needs to apply his or her technical skills to quickly solve practical challenges facing a drug developer.

Augsburger wasn’t the only faculty member who noticed Davar’s promise. “Nipun was an outstanding student – intellectually curious, helpful, hard-working, and always willing to thoughtfully debate challenging issues,” says Richard Dalby, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and associate dean for academic affairs at the School. “It’s no surprise he has enjoyed considerable success in several specialty pharma companies, based on what I observed of him at the School of Pharmacy.”

Davar and his wife, Dolly, also a pharmacist, hope to gradually increase their support to the School of Pharmacy, Davar says. Under the guidance of Dean Natalie D. Eddington, PhD ’89, BSP, FAAPS, he says, “The School is doing a great job in the development of the next set of scientists.

“I’m contributing in a small way, starting to give back to the School,” he says, adding that he is considering joining the adjunct faculty.

“I came to the United States with a dream and not much else. I think I was allowed to bring $600 into the country. In the last 20 years I’ve gotten three substantial degrees in the United States, and I have never paid a penny for any of them,” he says.

“My experience at the University of Maryland gave me a foundation on which to build my dreams,” he continues. “I owe a ton of gratitude to all the faculty and mentors at the School of Pharmacy.”