U. dedicates new college of pharmacy, focuses on goal of delivering new medications

Published: Friday, April 12 2013 5:05 p.m. MDT

The new L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Institute at the University of Utah on Friday, April 12, 2013.

, Steven Leitch

SALT LAKE CITY — Yizhe Chen came all the way from China to attend the University of Utah's College of Pharmacy. She said her decision hinged on the widely recognized quality reputation of the school's polymer drugs program.

But now that the U. has opened the doors to a brand new, 150,000-square-foot research and education facility, the 26-year-old graduate student is wishing she could start over again.

"It's definitely an upgrade," she said of the new L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Institute, which was dedicated Friday. "It is more integrated, there is open lab space and lots of separate rooms for discussing things with students and faculty. There are white boards everywhere. It's a much better environment."

Every aspect of the building's design — including its many alcoves and recesses, and numerous open labs — was intended to foster collaboration and interaction, said Dr. Darrell Davis, professor of medicinal chemistry at the college.

Davis said the science of pharmacy relies on it.

Chen has spent the past three years tucked into a temporary and isolated lab at the nearby Research Park. Discussing progress on her research with faculty, she said, often required a 15-minute shuttle ride across campus.

The new facility brings together pharmacy faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, who were spread across four locations on campus as they outgrew the old building, a 17,000-square-foot facility that was completed in 1966 and was named for Skaggs' father.

"We're now home," said Weston Tolman, IT projects director at the U. College of Pharmacy.

Tolman said he is proud of the new space and the fact that it contains features reminiscent of the Earth.

The walls of the building's atrium are lined with a delicately cut wood pattern, which Tolman said is often mistaken for a giraffe motif but is actually a depiction of the cells of a sponge. New medications, he said, are discovered from properties of plants, researched, tried in animals and humans, and then distributed for a greater benefit.

"The school does more than crank out pharmacists," Tolman said. "It begins with that initial discovery, often made by our students in these halls, and ultimately ends with the distribution of new drugs."

That process of delivering better health to mankind was the vision of the facility's namesake, who was said to be a lifelong supporter of the U.'s College of Pharmacy. Pharmacy colleges at six major institutions in the United States bear the Skaggs name.

Skaggs, called "a remarkable and generous man," and his family's ALSAM Foundation donated more than $50 million to help construct the more than $75 million institute. He was able to tour the facility six days before he died March 21.

Salt Lake-based EDA Architects and NBBJ Architects, of San Francisco and Seattle, founded the design of the building, and local Jacobsen Construction worked on the project after its 2009 groundbreaking.

Skaggs is said to have followed the design and construction through its process, making sure it met the purpose of bringing new medicines to life.

"If you look around, Sam is with us in this building," said Chris Ireland, dean of the school of pharmacy. "Sam is reflected in the faces of the College of Pharmacy students."

Ireland said students have a responsibility to extend Skaggs' legacy of making new discoveries and using what they have and know to better other people's lives.

"We will never know all the lives that will be impacted," U. President David Pershing said at the Friday dedication ceremony.

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