Takeru Higuchi (1918 - 1987)

Takeru HIguchiTakeru Higuchi, University Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy and Chemistry, was born on January 1, 1918 on a small farm near Los Altos, California. He passed away on March 24, 1987. He received a bachelors degree in Chemistry with honors from the University of California at Berkeley in 1939 and a doctorate in Physical and Organic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1943. He then joined the University of Akron, Office of Rubber Reserve as a research chemist where he contemplated a model for the absorption of molecules across a membrane barrier. “The sole of a shoe and a human skin are closely akin.”

Professor Higuchi’s decision to join the University of Wisconsin in 1947 as an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy now stands out as an important event. Forty years of news releases describe Professor Higuchi using a similar paragraph: “Trained as a physical chemist, Higuchi is known as ‘The Father of Physical Pharmacy’ for his work in applying the principles of the theoretical science of chemistry to the problems of our world’s need for dependable pharmaceutical dosage forms.”

The AACP’s Teachers Conference of 1952 and the Higuchi paper on physical chemistry courses for pharmacy students answered the question: “What is physical pharmacy?” At the same time, back in the laboratory, the problem of compressed candy that would not tolerate shipping was the first source of support for 15 papers on the physics of tablet compression (1952-1968). Recognition and promotion came quickly and in 1964 his scholarly activity was noted with the Edward Kremers Professor of Pharmacy Chair. During his tenure at Wisconsin, he trained more than 90 pre- and post-doctoral students. By 1967, 37 were established in major teaching universities and 53 were well on their way to executive posts in the pharmaceutical industry. The number of his published papers stood at 187.

In 1967, after 20 years of service to the University of Wisconsin, Takeru Higuchi joined the University of Kansas as a Regents Professor of Pharmacy and Chemistry. Then Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe (now retired Sterling Drug Company Chairman) said, “Few scientists in the world literally have created a distinct new discipline, even fewer are of the youth and vigor to consider taking on new and challenging responsibilities.” Higuchi’s interpretation of that challenge was to create economic activity within the state of Kansas that related directly to the mission of the department that was formed to accommodate his research interests. The Department of Analytical Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Pharmaceutics was formed with Professors Takeru Higuchi, Ian Pitman and Arnold Repta as its nucleus. The University community did not have long to wait for the academic and entrepreneurial adventure to begin. When Higuchi was offered a position with Alza Corporation at the end of his first year at Kansas, he renegotiated the terms with Alejandro Zaffaroni and as a result, the facility for the Alza Institute for Pharmaceutical Chemistry was constructed on KU’s West Campus. Dr. Higuchi served as its director from 1968 to 1972. In 1972, the building and the rights to continue to engage in prodrug development, “soft” biodegradable compounds and dermal delivery research were purchased from Alza by Higuchi and the Kansas University Endowment Association, forming the Interx Research Corporation.

The corporation was purchased by Merck and Company in 1980.

After 16 years as the founding Chairman of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Higuchi retired from the chairmanship in 1983. He promptly proposed the formation of a Center of Excellence in Bioanalytical Research within the University and then formed a for-profit corporation, Oread Laboratories, Inc., to provide the necessary funds to match the resources from the newly formed Kansas Advanced Technology Commission. The ground breaking for the 18,000 sq. ft. Oread Laboratory building was held on May 2, 1987.

Takeru and his wife, Aya Higuchi, established eight funds within the University of Kansas Endowment Association to provide continuing support and recognition of achievement for research and graduate education within the University and the state of Kansas. His students and colleagues arranged two major recognition symposia, one in 1981 when the Higuchi Research Prize was established to honor his service as the first president of the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and another in 1984 by the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in recognition of his contributions to drug delivery research.

Now that all of these achievements have been recorded, it remains for the more than 200 pre- and post-doctoral students he touched so directly, his academic and industrial associates whom he influenced to such a large degree, the institutions that he left with a rich legacy, the adopted profession he served so faithfully, and the family that he cherished to continue the work he began.

Adapted from a passage by:
Howard E. Mossberg, Ph.D.
Emeritus Vice Chancellor,
Office of Research and Graduate Studies and Emeritus Dean, School of Pharmacy