Research into excipients – the binders, fillers, and other inactive ingredients in pharmaceuticals – is an area that has not always been a popular field of specialization for pharmacy students, but Robert Pinco, BSP, JD, is trying to change that.

Robert PincoIn 2012, Pinco, a member of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s Board of Visitors, endowed a scholarship in industrial pharmaceutics for graduate and post-doctoral students working in pharmaceutics and excipient research.

Pinco is a pharmacist and attorney with extensive experience in drug development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and regulation. He also has served in government at the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and at the White House as associate general counsel for two presidents. For more than 30 years, he was an adjunct professor at the School of Pharmacy. He was a co-founder in 1991 of the International Pharmaceutical Excipient Council (IPEC), a trade association that promotes advances in excipient development.

Excipients play a critical role in the creation of medicines, helping to preserve the efficacy, safety, and stability of active pharmaceutical ingredients and ensuring that they deliver their promised benefits to patients, according to IPEC. Optimal use of excipients can provide pharmaceutical manufacturers with cost savings in drug development, enhanced functionality, and help in drug formulations innovation.

Pinco says that as IPEC grew globally to a trade association of more than 300 companies, he sought ways to give back to the profession. He created the IPEC Foundation, which he currently chairs, and through it strives to make excipient development more attractive to students of pharmaceutics.

“I’ve long wondered why it is so hard to get folks to go into this field. It’s just not as exciting as working with the active ingredients,” he says. Pinco says he would like to see graduate schools offer degrees in this specialized area. This scholarship is just the beginning of his effort to stimulate interest in research among graduate students and academics through the IPEC Foundation.

Conversations over the years with Stephen Hoag, PhD, a professor in the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC), and Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, ’89, BSP, FAAPS, FCP, dean and professor at the School, helped crystallize his focus. “When Dean Eddington came to me and said, ‘Would you like to give a large donation?’ she caught me at exactly the right moment,” Pinco says. He committed $25,000 to establish the Robert G. Pinco Endowed Scholarship in Industrial Pharmaceutics, an amount that was later doubled by an anonymous donor.

The first recipient of the Pinco Scholarship was Diana Vivian, a fourth-year graduate student in PSC. Vivian works in the lab of James Polli, PhD, the Shangraw/Noxell Endowed Chair in Industrial Pharmacy and Pharmaceutics, where she focuses on the applications of bile acid transporters in drug delivery and the assessment of recirculation through the liver and other digestive organs.

Vivian was chosen based on her academic credentials, a research abstract, and her leadership in the School. She chairs the School’s student chapter of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Sciences and served as graduate vice president of Rho Chi, the School of Pharmacy’s academic honor society.

Vivian earned her BS in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. “As an undergrad, I really enjoyed the health-related applications of chemical engineering,” she says. Vivian also is synthesizing and testing prodrugs that use bile acid moieties to increase the bioavailability of FDA-approved drugs, taking advantage of the high capacity and efficiency of bile acid uptake transporters. “It has been great to progress as a researcher under the guidance of such a helpful and accomplished mentor as Dr. Polli,” she says.

“I’d like to thank Mr. Pinco for creating this scholarship and supporting graduate education and research.”