College of LAS « Illinois

William J. Wechter

An Encore Performance

William Wechter


With nearly 50 patents to his name and almost 50 years in the pharmaceutical industry, it might appear that William Wechter's major accomplishments are behind him.

Not so.

Wechter and a close-knit group of fellow scientists have quite literally made an encore performance in their careers by founding a dynamic new pharmaceutical company. What's more, they have been discovering new applications for what are considered "old" drugs, giving these medicines an encore performance as well.

The company's name, appropriately enough, is EncorePharma.

In fact, one of Wechter's greatest legacies may be EncorePharma's recent work on R-Flurbiprofen, the leading candidate among a new wave of drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Wechter's unquenchable spirit, as well as an illustrious career that includes major contributions to many big-name drugs, have earned him a 2006 LAS Alumni Achievement Award.

Wechter received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1953 and 1954 respectively. But graduating from the U. of I. almost didn't come to pass because he came close to being asked not to return after his junior year.

As Wechter explains, he had done badly because he spent his evenings playing bridge and writing letters to his girlfriend (and future wife), rather than studying. But an assistant dean of LAS at the time gave him a second chance, and he says, "I never took my nose off the grindstone after that."

In fact, Wechter continued to keep his nose to the grindstone even after graduating from U. of I., which he describes as a "magical place." After his master's, the department sent him to UCLA where he earned his PhD in chemistry. On the advice of his major professor, he took a position with Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, now known as Pfizer, and spent 27 extraordinarily productive years with them.

As head of research in Upjohn's department of chemistry, and later as head, then research manager, of hypersensitivity diseases research, Wechter was instrumental in the discovery or commercialization of seven drugs. Among them was Motrin, which remains one of the most popular pain relievers of all time.

His department at Upjohn also did considerable work on anti-asthma and rheumatoid arthritis drugs, and he was heavily involved in the discovery and clinical trials of ATG, which is still used to inhibit the rejection of tissues after kidney and heart transplantation.

When Wechter left Upjohn, he spent a year in Germany and then four years as the director of clinical and pharmaceutical research with Boots Pharmaceuticals in Shreveport, La. In 1988, he became a research professor of medicine at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. It was from here that he spun off Encore Pharmaceuticals Inc. and remains the chairman of their board.

EncorePharma's R-Flurbiprofen compound is being developed by Myriad Pharmaceuticals as "Flurizan" and shows great promise in combating both Alzheimer's and prostrate cancer. Flurizan is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials after Phase 2 trials showed that it significantly inhibited the loss of cognition in Alzheimer's patients with little evidence of side effects.

In addition to continuing a heavy involvement with EncorePharma, Wechter remains active on all fronts. He is a competitive swimmer with U.S. Masters, while he collects art and is an avid photographer. He also scoots around town on his motorcycle and flew his own airplane until recently.

Wechter lives on nine acres, flanked on either side by orange groves, in Ojai, Calif., not far from Santa Barbara. As he puts it, "I feel like I've landed in Heaven." This small village has a thriving community of film producers and writers, the perfect place for Wechter to pursue yet another passion: film.

In Ojai, he says, "I can still continue my quest for what I am going to be when I grow up."

In other words, he's ready for more encores to come.

By Doug Peterson
Fall 2006