Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Director of the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production at North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University has hired a new Director of the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production at NDSU. C. Satishchandran will head the center, of which the focus will be DNA vaccine identification and production. He will also be a tenured professor of pharmaceutical sciences and have teaching responsibilities. Satishchandran came directly from the Nucleic Acid-Based Therapeutics Division of the Biotherapeutics Division at Pfizer Inc. where he was the Chief Technology Officer.

Satishchandran’s base annual salary is going to be $225,000, making him the second-highest-paid employee at NDSU, behind only the president, according to NDSU payroll information for 2009-10 (the new President hired May 24th 2010 will make a base salary of $300,000 and the NDSU head football coach makes a base salary of $180960 but his additional camps, radio appearances, and promotions can exceed $300,000).

Higher education and economic development officials have been working to bring a cluster of vaccine and related biotechnology firms to Fargo-Moorhead to build on academic programs already here. Biotechnology firms already in place include Aldevron, which recently acquired German vaccine company Genovac, as well as the new to Fargo, AltraVax.

Satishchandran stated in a news release his goals are recruit talent, develop investments, facilitate research, and to develop at least one vaccine during the center’s first five years, followed by at least one vaccine each year after that. A pretty lofty goal.

Ideally, the center will focus on public health issues that affect people locally, such as West Nile virus, as well as globally, such as malaria.

C. Satishchandran Ph.D., has had a long and outstanding career. Dr. Satishchandran received his M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Baroda in India. He then went on to achieve his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. He next moved to the Fox Chase Cancer Center and was there as a Post-Doc and Research Associate for roughly 6 years. Next he served as a Sr. Research Fellow, Associate Director, and Acting Director at Apollon and Wyeth (Apollon was acquired by Wyeth in 1998 and Wyeth was subsequently purchased by Pfizer in 2009). After leaving Apollon/Wyeth in 2000, he co-founded his own company Nucleonics, Inc. where he held the titles of Executive VP & Cheif Operating Officer. This lasted five years until there were charges of data falsification brought against him. Originally fired, Dr. Satishchandran and his co-founder Catherine Pachuck sued the company for wrongful termination, where they were then countersued by Nucleonics for alleged scientific misconduct.

After a brief (less than 2 years) stay at Pfizer, Dr. Satishchandran was hired by NDSU for his current position.

Being an alumni of NDSU, I sincerly hope that Dr. Satishchandran can follow through on his promises to NDSU. I have two major concerns. Obviously my first concern are the charges of misconduct. I am all for innocent until proven guilty, however I feel as though science is a lot like the current situation in major league baseball. Everyone is guilty of cheating until proven innocent. There are so many ways to manipulate data, and with the funding situation as poor as it is for academics and the millions and potentially billions of dollars at stake in new drug/vaccine development, cheating is to be expected. Second, I hope that this wasn't a situation where Dr. Satishchandran knew he was about to be canned and put out his hook for whoever would take him.

Whatever the situation, I wish both NDSU and Dr. Satishchandran the best of luck and will be carefully watching how this new center develops.

Lance D. Presser has a PhD in Microbiology & Immunology, and is a Public Health Laboratorian.

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