Frank C. Becker
For his industry-leading accomplishments in process research and development, manufacturing management, and business development in the pharmaceuticals industry, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Frank C. Becker.
Vice President, Chemical Manufacturing and R&D
Chemical and Agricultural Products Division
On coming to Purdue
When I graduated from high school, I had seven football scholarships, including ones to the University of Iowa, Iowa State, Colorado, and Northwestern. But I wanted to be an engineer and study aeronautical engineering, so I came to Purdue.
That first evening in 1954 when I was at Purdue, they had a freshman convocation. Dean Mallett, who was dean of men, had us in the convocation center. He walked onstage-he was a rather imposing gentleman-and he said, "I'd like for everyone to stand up and introduce yourself to the person in front of you, behind you, and beside you, because only one in four of you will graduate." After the event I sat on the steps outside the building and cried, because I didn't know if I was going to be one of the few who would make it. And as it turned out, of a sophomore class of 300 or so students in chemical engineering, only about 80 of us did graduate.
On switching to chemical engineering
|During my freshman year, I lived with three other engineering students. Two were seniors in chemical engineering, and the more I talked with them, the more interested I became in that program. I was always impressed with the prospect of building an airplane, but then after hearing more about chemical engineering, I began to think that there were more opportunities in that field.||
I worked my way through Purdue in the kitchens of the Chi Omega sorority house, and I carried a lot of hours as an engineering student-that was tough. We studied Monday through Friday nights, and I spent many Saturdays and Sundays in the Quonset huts doing quant and qual labs for chemical engineering. I had Herschel Hunt, a legend at Purdue, for physical chemistry. He would tell it like it was-and on assignments you either got a 0, 25, 50, 75, or 100. Nothing in between, and no points for having the correct thought process!
On his career and its high points
I currently have two major responsibilities: my group provides all the technology for Abbott's four chemical manufacturing plants around the world, two of which I directly manage. Second, I'm responsible for coordinating global manufacturing for all new chemical drugs.
Most of my emphasis is on new pharmaceutical development, from the discovery stage through commercialization. It's exciting, because what you do benefits society. The new Abbott AIDS drug, Norvir, that we produce, for instance, was very rewarding. We were under corporate pressure and pressure from the FDA-and we were in a race with Hoffman-LaRoche and Merck as well, two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
As for other highlights of my career, I'm proud of the fact I've been involved in building three factories and two pilot plants. I've also had the opportunity-going back to 1981, when my division was reorganized-to do everything from engineering and manufacturing to drug development and sales and marketing. By 1990 I was running a $150 million sales operation as well as overseeing chemical manufacturing and R&D. I've been pleased that I've had the opportunity to see the whole picture and, in essence, to be able to run a small company within a very large one, with the support to make things happen.
On challenges facing Abbott Labs
The ever-increasing regulatory impact on the health care industry is a big part of what controls us and drives us today. The chemical and engineering part of what we do is only a part of our mission. The documentation necessary for agencies like the FDA, the EPA, and OSHA is a growing part of our environment.
Another aspect of our work is the commercial impact of what we do and how quickly we must get to market launch. Just ten years ago, if we took seven or eight years to develop a drug, that was the norm-but we were able to get our new protease inhibitor, Norvir, which is used in HIV-positive patients, on the market in 32 months. Along the way we've gone from spending around $150 million to spending around $300 million on developing each new drug that makes it to the market. The speed with which new drugs are developed and the cost with which they're developed are sufficient challenges for us to manage.
Finally, there's the growing influence of biotechnology and its impact on developing new drugs. In most cases these small start-up companies have little manufacturing experience in how to turn their ideas into a commercially viable product. Biotechnology is going to be a growing field for all of us, including the country's chemical engineering schools.
- Vice President, Chemical Manufacturing and R&D, Abbott Laboratories. Responsible for manufacturing of chemical products at North Chicago and Puerto Rico operations, for global manufacturing strategy of four chemical factories, and for process R&D for new chemicals within Abbott.
- Vice President, Agricultural and Animal Health Research. Responsible for sales and marketing and R&D of all agricultural and animal health products.
- Vice President, Animal Health Research. Responsible for new venture R&D/sales.
- Vice President, Chemical Strategic Business Unit. Responsible for $150 million sales/marketing organization, process R&D for all new chemical compounds and chemical manufacturing at North Chicago.
- Manager, Chemical Development and Industrial Chemical Research. Involved in new specialty chemical and pharmaceutical intermediate products. Initiated development of bulk-peptide manufacturing facility.
- Manager, Industrial Chemical Research. Responsible for development, scale-up, and manufacture of 31 products.
- Section manager, Chemical Process Development.
- Group leader, Chemical Development. Responsible for pilot plant activities.
- Engineer, pilot plant, Chemical Development. Supported the start-up of alkylamines plant in Wichita, KS.
BSChE '59, Purdue; MBA '71, U. of Chicago