Plough Center Director dedicated to safely transitioning innovative drug discoveries out of the lab and to patients who need them
In 2012, over 700 patients across 20 states received tainted steroid injections, resulting in 64 deaths. Tennessee had 153 of these cases and 16 deaths. This multi-state outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections emphasized the importance of high-quality, sterile drug manufacturing.
This tragedy served as one of the catalysts for the creation of the Plough Center for Sterile Drug Delivery Solutions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. The Plough Center is a first-of-its-kind pharmaceutical facility in Tennessee, dedicated to training pharmaceutical scientists, students and faculties and developing early phase investigational therapeutics for clinical trials, including rare orphan drugs not typically pursued by large pharmaceutical corporations.
Dr. Harry Kochat is the Director of the Plough Center and Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Science. He joined UTHSC in 2016 after spending over 30 years in the pharmaceutical sector, holding numerous senior management roles. During this time, he helped to develop eight oncology drugs and 13 preclinical programs. He has over 250 active domestic and international patents, along with 60 publications. He holds a doctorate in organic chemistry and had several years of a postdoctoral fellowships at Purdue University and Rice University prior to starting his pharmaceutical career.
When Ken Brown, UTHSC Executive Vice Chancellor, asked him to join the Plough Center, Kochat believed it was a “perfect opportunity” to use his unique skills and knowledge to help advancing academic research and discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace through successful clinical trials.
“We need to increase the value of the research and data that we are doing in academic settings,” explained Kochat. “If research stays within the academic level, it never gets into the community or to patients. One has to carefully design FDA submission packages and to pursue it through clinical trials.”
At the beginning of his career, Kochat entered the private sector because he wanted to use his knowledge and experience to create and develop new drugs for patients. He returned to academia accepting a hybrid position at the Plough Center for a similar reason with his lifelong ambition: to transition safe, innovative drugs out of the lab to patients who need them to give them another chance to have a quality life.
“What if I could create life-changing drugs that doctors can prescribe? That would make a huge impact. That’s what I wanted,” said Kochat. “That’s why I switched from academics to industry. However, I always respected academics, which is why I came back. To bridge that gap.”
One of the proudest moments of his career was when a mother and her two children arrived at his office when he was working in the private sector to tell him that a pediatric oncology drug he helped develop years prior saved her son’s life.
“The boy started the investigational drug when he was two and he was eight when they brought him,” shared Kochat. “It was his birthday that day and they asked him, ‘What would you like?’ He wanted to meet the people who saved his life. Those are the types of positive moments with positive energy that drive you back into why you do what you do.”
In addition to his daily responsibilities, Kochat works closely with UTRF on several drug development projects out of UTHSC, including with Dr. Santosh Kumar, Dr. Nawajes Mandal and Dr. Valeria Vásquez, among many others.
“Dr. Harry Kochat is a brilliant and driven researcher, administrator and former executive who offers so much insight into the sterile drug development process for burgeoning entrepreneurs and innovators at UTHSC,” said James Parrett, UTRF Technology Manager. “UTRF is glad to have a partner like Dr. Kochat who is committed to safely moving life-changing drug discoveries out of the lab and to patients in need.”
Looking ahead, Kochat is working on a joint grant to provide a pharmaceutical formulation training program at UTHSC and continuing a bi-annual cleanroom aseptic hands-on training program for professionals around the country. He is also hoping to expand the Plough Center’s work to have even more of an impact on sterile drug development in the region. At present Plough Center is helping several pharma clients with their Phase 1 and Phase 2 sterile drug manufacturing involving complex and challenging formulations.
“We are flourishing. The future is very bright,” Kochat said. “My thanks to UTHSC for having me and giving me this opportunity to use my platform and knowledge to help the community.”