Alejandro Zaffaroni

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Alejandro Zaffaroni
Alejandro Zaffaroni 2006 BIO Award.JPG
Born(1923-02-27)February 27, 1923
DiedMarch 1, 2014(2014-03-01) (aged 91)
Alma mater
Spouse(s)Lida Zaffaroni

Alejandro Zaffaroni (February 27, 1923 – March 1, 2014) was a serial entrepreneur who was responsible for founding several biotechnology companies in Silicon Valley.[1][2][3] Products that he was involved in developing include the birth control pill, the nicotine patch, corticosteroids, and the DNA microarray.[4]


Born in 1923 in Montevideo, Uruguay, Zaffaroni received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the Republic in 1945, and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Rochester in 1949.[5]


Zaffaroni joined Syntex, then a small chemical company in Mexico, as a biochemist in 1951. He participated in turning Syntex into a major multinational pharmaceutical company, moving it to Palo Alto, California. He was appointed president of the U.S. subsidiary in 1962.

In 1968, he founded ALZA, a portmanteau of his name, to develop medical treatments through controlled drug delivery. He modeled new delivery systems after the processes discovered in endocrinology – where glands deliver very small amounts of hormones but have a tremendous effect –.[6]

ALZA's first controlled drug delivery product was used to treat glaucoma. Other products that incorporated Zaffaroni's drug delivery technologies include Glucotrol, for non insulin-dependent diabetes; Duragesic, for management of severe chronic pain; NicoDerm CQ, for smoking cessation; and Transderm-Scop, to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness.[7]

In 1980, Zaffaroni established DNAX, a developer of macromolecular products that combines the technologies of genetic engineering and immunobiology.[8]

In 1988 he co-founded Affymax, specializing in combinatorial chemistry to reduce the cost and time of identifying new medicines.

In 1991 he founded Affymetrix, specializing in using genetics for developing new medicine. He was also involved in the creation of Perlegen Sciences, an Affymetrix spin-off which works on finding genetic causes of disease.

In 1994, he founded Symyx Technologies, a company dedicated to utilizing combinatorial chemistry technologies.

Other companies he founded include Maxygen (1997), a developer of technologies that improve the development of proteins and genetic elements, and SurroMed, focusing on the development of technologies for surrogate disease markers. In 2000, he founded Alexza Pharmaceuticals, a company working on rapid onset of action drug delivery technologies.

He died at his home at Atherton, California on March 1, 2014. He was 91.[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

Alejandro Zaffaroni receiving the Winthrop–Sears Medal, 2004

In 1979 Zaffaroni was awarded the Chemical Pioneer Award by the American Institute of Chemists[10] In 1995, he received the National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton for his contributions to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. In 2004, he was one of the recipients of the Winthrop-Sears Medal from the Chemical Heritage Foundation and The Chemists’ Club, with George Rosenkranz. In 2005 he received the Bower Award for Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute for his creation of new biochemical processes and drug delivery technologies. In 2005 he was awarded the Gregory Pincus Award from the Worcester Foundation. In 2006, he received the Biotechnology Heritage Award, from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation.[11][12]


  1. ^ Shaw, Jane E. (2014). "Alejandro Zaffaroni (1923–2014) Bioentrepreneur who revolutionized drug delivery and screening". Nature. 508 (7495): 187. doi:10.1038/508187a.
  2. ^ Alejandro Zaffaroni's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Zaffaroni, A; Burton, R. B. (1951). "Identification of corticosteroids of beef adrenal extract by paper chromatography". The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 193 (2): 749–67. PMID 14907764.
  4. ^ Pollack, Andrew (March 6, 2014). "Alejandro Zaffaroni, Entrepreneur on Biotech Frontier, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  5. ^ Inventor of the Week: Alejandro Zaffaroni
  6. ^ The Revolutionaries: Alejandro Zaffaroni Archived 2014-05-13 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ ALZA: Commercial Products[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Palo Alto to be home of expanded biopharma research effort
  9. ^ Alejandro Zaffaroni, longtime friend of Stanford, deceased at 91
  10. ^ "Chemical Pioneer Award". American Institute of Chemists. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Biotechnology Heritage Award". Science History Institute. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  12. ^ Gussman, Neil (9 April 2006). "Alejandro Zaffaroni Receives 2006 Biotechnology Heritage Award". BIO. Retrieved 5 February 2014.