The Daily Northwestern

Professor Uses Lyrica Royalties To Fund Building

Libby Nelson

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By Libby NelsonThe Daily Northwestern

A Northwestern professor’s donation will finance a new building that will bring together engineering, biology and chemistry for interdisciplinary research, university officials announced Wednesday.

The building will be named after chemistry Prof. Richard Silverman, developer of the chronic pain relief drug Lyrica, and his wife.

Lyrica earned $1.2 billion in revenue for pharmaceutical company Pfizer in 2006. Silverman has donated a portion of his royalties to NU to help fund the $100-million project.

The building has been planned for several years and was announced in November 2005, but NU was waiting to begin construction until the project had a lead donor.

The Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics will be the second building on campus named after an NU professor. Locy Hall, which houses the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is named after William Albert Locy, a professor of zoology who worked at NU at the turn of the 20th century.

Professors’ donations to fund such projects are very rare, Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said.

“It’s safe to say it’s unusual,” he said, adding that he could not think of another instance at NU.

Cubbage said he could not comment on how much money Lyrica brings either to Silverman or to NU, which gets a 6-percent cut of the drug’s royalties.

Silverman said he wanted to thank NU and the chemistry department with his donation for being “a wonderful place to work” for 31 years.

“In order to make advances in science, you need to collaborate and interact, and this (building) will certainly encourage it,” Silverman said.

The building, which will be between the Pancoe-Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Life Sciences Pavilion and Annenberg Hall on North Campus, will bring together five NU science departments for interdisciplinary research through the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

Researchers will pursue areas including drug discovery and the molecular basis of evolution, said chemistry Prof. Thomas O’Halloran, director of the institute.

“We’ll be mixing together biochemists, engineers and chemists to facilitate some dramatic new discoveries,” he said.

Silverman, whose research work will be a part of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, said compounds that he has developed related to Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy are undergoing animal testing.

“The brain is very complex, and these degenerative diseases are horrendous,” he said. “My brother has Parkinson’s, so that’s a strong impetus for this. But I think any disease is certainly worth working on.”

While historically the fields of chemistry, physics and biology are separate, recent medical discoveries have mixed knowledge from all fields, making interdisciplinary research increasingly important, O’Halloran said.

“It’s very fundamental research, a lot of which will be connected with clinical researchers,” he said.

Cubbage said the building should attract new researchers in addition to providing more facilities for those already working at NU.

“I think it’s going to be one of the important draws for recruiting the top scholars in the country,” O’Halloran said, adding that NU had used plans for the project to recruit scientists from other universities.

Silverman said he has not decided whether future proceeds from Lyrica will go to NU projects.

“Right now, I’ve got this gift going (on) that I’m excited about,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the future, but I certainly am excited about what can go on at Northwestern.”

Reach Libby Nelson at libbynelson@northwestern.edu.

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