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VOL. 132 | NO. 9 | Thursday, January 12, 2017

For New Plough Center Director, Job is a Calling

By Andy Meek

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For Dr. Harry Kochat, the best parts of working in pharmaceutical development are the interactions with grateful patients. Like the one he remembers from early in his career, when Kochat – whose work has focused on the development of life-saving drugs for more than three decades – encountered a mother and her young son.

The boy was the survivor of a brain tumor. It was a cancer drug developed by Kochat back in the 1990s while working for a pharmaceutical company in Texas that saved the boy’s life. The boy’s mother thanked him.

That drug went on to be used at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to treat brain tumors. The first batch of that drug was produced in one of the pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in Memphis on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

That’s where the tug of fate has now nudged Kochat himself. He’s the new director of the Plough Center for Sterile Drug Delivery Systems at UTHSC, recruited by Dr. Ken Brown – UTHSC’s executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer – to direct the Plough Center’s two manufacturing facilities.

“I’ve been involved in new drug discovery, innovation and drug development,” he said. “But the main goal for me – it doesn’t matter to me what project I’m working on – it’s the patient. The end user. What I can do to bring new medicines to life for terminally ill patients to give them a second chance to live in this world. When you look at it that way, the sweet moments you get throughout the journey, every day is fresh for you.”

The manufacturing facility where Kochat’s drug was produced at UTHSC has been operating since 1963 in the Van Vleet Cancer Center on campus. Its operation has included producing small-batch preclinical and phase 1 drugs, as well as offering testing and training services.

The other Plough Center facility is a $16 million state-of-the-art building that’s in the final stage of construction now. It’s at 208 S. Dudley St. on the east side of the UTHSC campus. And it will kick the university’s manufacturing efforts up a notch, giving it new capabilities like drug development and production – from preclinical to commercial – for everything from startups to big pharma players.

As its capabilities multiply, Brown said recruitment efforts for the Plough Center’s directorship turned toward someone who grasped the expansiveness of the mission. And Kochat, Brown said, was the candidate “with the greatest sense of responsibility for the work he is doing.”

“We were able to recruit the one who cared the most about what the benefits of his efforts will mean to the quality of human life,” Brown said. “I believe we recruited the best person out there.”

The same was true from the opposite direction. Kochat wanted an employer likewise powered by a sense of mission, as opposed to just the provider of a job. And the team is important. No one, Kochat points out, discovers the next breakthrough drug by themselves.

Kochat spent most of his career at BioNumerik Pharmaceuticals Inc. in San Antonio, in drug development, quality and regulatory compliance.

Construction on the new Plough Center facility began in late 2015. It’s almost finished now, and Kochat will be working to get the facility inspected and qualified by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“How many precious souls will come and tell you thank you for saving my life?” Kochat said, reflecting on his life’s work. “Those are the precious moments. Those are what I enjoy. I want to see people living longer. Whatever it takes to do that, I’m there.”

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