An extraordinary visionary and philanthropist, the late E. Claiborne Robins transformed his family’s small apothecary into the multi-million dollar pharmaceutical enterprise, A.H. Robins Company. Robins perhaps is best known as a benefactor to his alma mater, the University of Richmond, where his name adorns the business school and sporting arena. But Robins also created a significant legacy on the MCV Campus. A 1933 MCV pharmacy graduate, Robins and his late wife, Lora, endowed a distinguished professorship in 1987 to ensure excellence in pharmacy education and innovation in pharmaceutical research. Long after his death, Robins’ legacy lives on.
Professor Peter Byron is a man of many faces—a pharmacist, an immunologist, an engineer and physicist of sorts, a British turned American citizen. He is VCU’s pharmaceutics department chair who has built the world’s best academic aerosol research team. His finesse at attracting external research funding has won his department more than $10 million in grants and contracts over the last 15 years. But above all, Byron is an academic scientist, whose primary mission is to create, educate and serve.
From developing optimal ways to get drugs into a patient’s lungs to discovering less environmentally harmful alternatives, Byron has devoted much of his career to creating new and better drug inhalation devices. In fact, Byron holds a number of patents on vastly improved aerosol inhalers that are widely used today. “The problem with traditional inhalers,” Byron says, “is that only 10 to 30 percent of a medication dose is making it to a patient’s lungs.” But through his latest major collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, a multi-million dollar grant from Chrysalis Technologies, Byron is investigating a novel inhaler device that condenses medication into the smallest aerosol form yet to be discovered—small enough to accomplish complete lung penetration. But even more important, Byron takes every step of groundbreaking research with VCU students by his side. “I always encourage students to be creative, to challenge conventional wisdom and existing hypotheses, not to do ‘me too’ science,” he says. “With a constant emphasis on independent thinking,” says former graduate student John Sun, PhD ’95, “Dr. Byron planted a seed of innovation in my own research activities.” Sun now holds two international patents of his own. Many of Byron’s peers consider him the world’s leading voice for respiratory drug delivery systems.
As chairman of the United States Pharmacopoeia Aerosols Expert Committee, Byron is active in regulatory policies in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world. His international Respiratory Drug Delivery Conference, sponsored since 1988 by the VCU Department of Pharmaceutics, is widely considered the field’s premiere symposium. International standing aside, Byron says what he is most proud of are his students. “My former students have proven by virtue of their own accomplishments that they can innovate. That’s the real reason we faculty are here after all, to make our students independent, to help them build enough confidence to fly on their own.”