Can’t Be Grateful Enough

UB Students in white lab coats talking in front of light blue windows.

Mario Rocci Jr. (BS ’76, PhD ’81) wants others to receive the support he received at UB.

Mario Rocci Jr., BS ’76, PhD ’81.

Mario Rocci Jr., BS ’76, PhD ’81

Mario Rocci Jr., BS ’76, PhD ’81, an international leader in contract research, retired in late 2017, bringing to a close a career that provided him with what seemed like boundless opportunity. Now, with time to reflect on the circumstances that contributed to his success, Rocci and his wife, Donna, are gratefully acknowledging “the world-class education” he received at UB.

Recently the couple made a substantial commitment in their estate to fund two named endowments in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: one that will provide scholarships for PharmD and graduates students; and another, to endow a department chair. 

“I want to be able to help as many students as possible,” says Rocci, “of course, with a soft spot in my heart for bright students who don’t have the financial resources to go to school. They’ve worked hard all their lives, and I hate to think that money would keep them from fulfilling their potential.”

By endowing a chair, Rocci wants “to help budding faculty get a start with early proof-of-concept research,” the type of research outside funding agencies don’t usually risk supporting. “We need to have these dreamers,” says Rocci. “I have no problem funding ideas that are out of the box and that will probably fail; but in the event they succeed, they could be big.”

Big ideas that fall outside the box are things Rocci knows about firsthand. A native of Utica, N.Y., he had a strong aptitude for science and mathematics as an undergraduate at UB, but wasn’t sure what profession he wanted to pursue. A cousin 10 years older than he, and a UB alumnus, was a pharmacist and encouraged him to explore the field. Rocci did and his interest took off when he was introduced to his cousin’s roommate in college, William Jusko, PhD, now a SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. While a pharmacy student, Rocci began working in Jusko’s lab and became motivated to pursue a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences as a result of the strong mentorship he received from Jusko and other prominent faculty in the school, including Milo Gibaldi, Gerhard Levy and Leung Fung.

Following graduate school, Rocci took a position at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Penn., where he was part of a team of clinical pharmacologists conducting first-in-man studies on drugs that today have become mainstays of therapy, such as statins, ACE inhibitors and ulcer medications. “It was a fantastic experience,” Rocci recalls. “Our unit gave a statin for the first time to a human being! The pharmaceutical industry was beginning to boom, and I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”

After eight years, Rocci had an opportunity to move back to Utica and develop from scratch an FDA- regulated drug development testing division within Oneida Research Services, a microelectronics testing company. The division was enormously successful and was later spun off into its own company, Prevalere Life Sciences, which Rocci headed as CEO for about six years. In 2008, Prevalere was sold to ICON, an Ireland-based contract research organization (CRO). “We were very proud of what we had done in the Utica area, and almost every large CRO wantedto acquire us,” Rocci says, “so we were very careful to make sure we had a good fit, which we did with ICON.”

Until his retirement, Rocci worked for ICON, where he held numerous prominent positions, including president of ICON Development Solutions, their early-phase clinical testing division, a role in which he supervised some 500 employees.

Over the last two decades of his career Rocci served a wide variety of professional associations, becoming president of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) and the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASCPT)—the only person to serve both these associations in this capacity.

In looking back, Rocci says “Because of the scholarship assistance at UB, I got a worldclass education and left school debt free. Now how many places does that happen?"

“And I was always so amazed at the training I got at UB,” he adds. “Throughout my career I felt I was very well prepared to interact with all my colleagues because my education was so rigorous. So it became a question of, well, if I don’t give back, I limit the ability of this institution to continue doing the good things that it’s doing. I can’t be grateful enough for the opportunity folks at UB gave me, so Donna and I want to help extend this opportunity for others.”

By S.A. Unger