NCRC director selected one year after purchase of former Pfizer site

Managing News Editor
Published June 13, 2010

The University has selected an executive director to oversee the North Campus Research Complex, according to a recent University press release. The appointment comes a year after the University’s purchase of the two million-square-foot research and development facility previously owned by Pfizer Inc.

Pending approval from the University Board of Regents, David Canter, director of health care research at the non-profit William Davidson Institute at the University, will be appointed the NCRC’s executive director starting on July 19.

Canter, who previously led the Pfizer pharmaceutical research operation at the current site of the NCRC until the company ceased its work in 2007, will be charged with the task of coordinating the use of laboratory and manufacturing resources along with the University’s move into the two million square-foot facility, according the release.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Canter said his experience as a project leader on several drug projects at Pfizer — notably the development of top-selling drug Lipitor — will help him take on the NCRC directorship.

“(The experience has) connected me with pharmaceutical scientists, toxicologists, chemists, biologists and made me appreciate how integrated science needs to be in order to tackle difficult questions,” he said. “Drug development really is a whole series of difficult questions that you have to answer in which no one specialty can answer them on their own.”

Having spent nearly 25 years in pharmaceutical research, Canter said he first began to consider the opportunity to lead the NCRC after a chance conversation last fall with Ora Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, on the future of the complex.

“I can think of no one better suited to guide the development of NCRC and transform our university's approach to multidisciplinary research and partnership with the private sector,” Pescovitz said in the release.

“I have every confidence that with David Canter's leadership, we will fulfill the promise that this extraordinary facility holds,” echoed University President Mary Sue Coleman in the release. “He will guide the NCRC in creating new knowledge and accelerating economic growth for our region.”

Canter praised the University’s $108 million purchase of the site as a “wonderfully bold move,” adding that research is often stymied by an unwillingness to construct the facilities that can support it.

“It’s a capital cost that just inhibits many organizations from joining or wanting to participate,” he said. “Here we don’t have that issue—they’re already there. (The buildings) may need a little renovation, but the real capital cost is already made.”

Canter said because the University did most of the legwork in purchasing the Pfizer campus, he would first focus on coming up to speed with the current progress at the site and recruiting a small, entrepreneurial team to help him map out the future of the complex.

Members of the University research support staff — some of whom worked in the former Pfizer facilities and security teams — have already moved into NCRC offices, according to the release. Information from the University of Michigan Health System’s website in February suggested that approximately 125 faculty and 450 staff members will also move into the site.

After what he called a deliberate decision to move on from pharmaceutical research and development, Canter said his work in the William Davidson Institute was eye-opening to the rigors of an academic setting. The experience, he said, would be invaluable in developing the NCRC beyond its potential as a laboratory and manufacturing site.

“We call it the North Campus Research Center, but it’s going to have to be much more than that,” he said. “It’s going to really be a part of the University with education, with students, part of the medical school and service as its mission.”