Resident of Atherton
Alejandro Zaffaroni, an innovator in drug delivery systems and biotechnology, and generous humanitarian, died peacefully at home on March 1, 2014 in Atherton, California. He was 91. Dr. Zaffaroni was widely regarded as a visionary and has left a positive impact on the lives of millions through the invention of innovative medical technology.
Dr. Zaffaroni was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He studied medicine in his home country and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1945 to study at either Harvard or the University of Rochester in New York. After visiting both universities, he decided to attend Rochester as it offered him his own laboratory and the freedom to pursue his interest in biochemistry and steroid research. His research at Rochester resulted in development of the "Zaffaroni Technique" for isolating steroids, which led to the first synthesis of cortisone by scientists at Upjohn. He received his PhD in Biochemistry in 1949. In 1951, after finishing an NIH Fellowship, he joined a privately held Mexican chemical company, Syntex, S.A. He played a key role in bringing Syntex to the US and transforming the firm into a global pharmaceutical corporation that pioneered the development of therapeutic corticosteroids and the birth control pill. Eventually he became President of Syntex Laboratories and Director of Research.
In 1968 he left Syntex to found ALZA Corporation. ALZA pioneered new technologies for delivering drugs, including transdermal patches for nicotine, nitroglycerin, and scopolamine, insertable devices, and an oral controlled release system that was licensed to Pfizer for a cardiovascular drug and became its first billion dollar therapeutic. ALZA would be the first of Dr. Zaffaroni's nine companies built around novel technologies and 130 patented processes for drug delivery, high-speed genome scanning, drug discovery, and innovative materials development for a wide variety of industries. These companies have produced a multitude of successful platform technologies from which further medicines, devices and materials have been developed. Dr. Zaffaroni attributed his legendary productivity to his many talented colleagues and the highly collaborative work culture he encouraged.
Building upon the success of his entrepreneurial pursuits, Dr. Zaffaroni and his wife Lida have given generously to humanitarian causes. The Zaffaroni Foundation has provided grants for medical research, higher education, scholarships, and the construction and ongoing support of the Moldaw-Zaffaroni Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
The $10 million endowed Alejandro and Lida Zaffaroni Scholarship and Fellowship Program at Stanford University, which is partly funded by gifts from donors who credit Dr. Zaffaroni with providing inspiration, mentorship and friendship throughout their careers, provides students, especially those from Latin America, with undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships. The Zaffaronis were also major donors to the Lida and Alejandro Zaffaroni Breast Imaging Center at the Stanford Cancer Center.
Numerous awards and honors are a testament to Dr. Zaffaroni's accomplishments. Notably, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the nation's highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed by the President of the United States. Other prominent honors include induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, the Biotech Hall of Fame Award from the Life Sciences Foundation, the Biotechnology Heritage Award from the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Bower Award from the Franklin Institute, and First Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
Dr. Zaffaroni's professional associations included the President's Circle of the National Academy of Sciences, the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine Advisory Council at Stanford University, the Stanford University Hospital Board of Directors, the Division of Biological Sciences Advisory Council at Harvard University, the MIT Sustaining Fellows, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Zaffaroni is survived by his wife Lida, his son Alejandro and daughter-in-law Leah, his daughter Elisa, and two grandchildren, Alejandro Peter and Charles A. Zaffaroni. The family would like to express appreciation to the devoted caregivers who made his final years as comfortable as possible.
A private family service has been held. A memorial service may be held at a later date. The family requests that donations in memory of Dr. Zaffaroni be made to the Alejandro and Lida Zaffaroni Scholarship and Fellowship Program at Stanford University, the UC Berkeley Foundation, or the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
Stanford University released an obituary on Dr. Zaffaroni on March 3, 2014.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Mar. 9, 2014.