Biogen Endows $1.5 Million Chair In Neurology At UB

By Lois Baker

Release Date: June 22, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Biogen, a leading international biotechnology company headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., has established the Irvin and Rosemary Smith Chair in Neurology in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences through an endowment of $1.5 million.

William R. Greiner, UB president, announced the sponsorship of the endowed chair today (June 22, 1998) at a press conference at the university. Biogen is endowing the chair in conjunction with its 20th-anniversary celebration.

Lawrence D. Jacobs, M.D., UB professor of neurology and internationally recognized authority on the treatment of multiple sclerosis, will be the first holder of the chair. Jacobs has devoted most of his medical career to the study and treatment of MS. He was the first researcher to show that interferon beta was an effective treatment in some forms of multiple sclerosis.

His research, supported by private foundations and the National Institutes of Health, and clinical trials supported by Biogen, ultimately showed that the company's genetically engineered interferon beta-1a slowed the accumulation of physical disability in MS patients, in addition to reducing the number of MS-related brain lesions and the number of flare-ups.

The drug, known by the brand name Avonex®, was approved by the FDA in 1996. It is now the world's leading treatment for patients with the relapsing forms of the disease.

In announcing the endowment, Greiner said, "It is especially gratifying to have the breakthrough work of one of our most distinguished faculty members, Dr. Larry Jacobs, lead to the creation of a chair in neurology that recognizes and supports his work, and provides UB with a permanent legacy.

"Larry's path-breaking research, teaching, service and leadership have elevated significantly the national and international reputation of our Department of Neurology and the UB medical school. We are very grateful to Biogen for recognizing Larry's work through this generous gift to UB."

James L. Vincent, Biogen's chairman of the board, said, "Biogen is proud to endow this chair, which honors several individuals who represent the finest ideals of science. I have been closely associated with Irv and Rosemary Smith for more than 30 years. They demonstrate the highest standards of courage, ethical behavior and integrity -- values that are fundamental to Biogen's corporate philosophy.

"We are delighted that Dr. Larry Jacobs is the first person to hold this chair," Vincent added. "His belief in the potential of interferon beta-1a as a treatment for multiple sclerosis was vital to the successful development of Avonex®, which has brought new hope to MS patients throughout the world."

Irvin Smith, Ph.D., Biogen's former vice president for development operations, retired from the company in 1996.

Jacobs said he was "very honored and very flattered" to be selected to hold the new Irvin and Rosemary Smith Chair in Neurology.

"The endowment demonstrates Biogen's commitment to the work we are doing here," he said. "It's coming at an age when I still have plenty of time left to continue that work.

"But the chair isn't for me," he added. "It's for progress in treating multiple sclerosis. It will allow us to do so much, and will insure that the work can continue uninterrupted."

John R. Wright, M.D., interim dean of the UB medical school, thanked Biogen for its generosity in endowing the chair, and termed Jacobs' appointment as its first holder "a well-deserved honor.

"The medical school is proud and pleased that Biogen has chosen to recognize an individual who has contributed so much to the field of neurology and to the community," Wright said. "Dr. Jacobs has spent 20 years helping people living with this debilitating disease. His work is a great credit to himself, the UB medical school and all of the people and organizations who believed in him and supported his research."

Jacobs began working with natural interferon in the late 1970s at the suggestion of Arnold Freeman, M.D., formerly a researcher at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who was investigating interferon's potential as a treatment for cancer. He urged Jacobs to test the product's antiviral and immune-modifying properties in appropriate neurologic patients. Aware of the prevalence of MS in Western New York and its legacy of disability, Jacobs decided to concentrate his interferon research on that disease. (See attached backgrounder for more information.)

In addition to his professorship in neurology, Jacobs holds appointments in the UB departments of Ophthalmology, Physiology and Communicative Disorders and Sciences. He is head of neurology at The Buffalo General Hospital and chief of neurology at the William C. Baird Multiple Sclerosis Research Center at Millard Fillmore Hospital.

He has won numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Stockton Kimball Award in 1996, and has a lengthy publication record.

Smith, for whom the chair is named, is a biochemist by training. His career in health care and biotechnology has spanned nearly 40 years. He was responsible for managing Biogen's role in the Phase III trial of Avonex® and for shepherding it through the lengthy FDA approval process.

Biogen was established in 1978 by a group of academic researchers, including two Nobel Prize winners, interested in genetic engineering and its potential to improve health care. Discoveries by Biogen scientists have included the alpha interferon gene and hepatitis B antigens. In addition to Avonex®, the company's discoveries have resulted in the development of Intron® A, a leading treatment for hepatitis B and C and various cancers, and of vaccines for hepatitis B.