Prolific Researcher Turns to Mentoring Next Generation of Bioscience Execs

As part of an occasional series on the people behind CIMS and other Poole College of Management initiatives, here’s an opportunity to learn more about Richard (Dick) Kouri of the BioSciences Management Initiative.

For someone with a worldwide reputation as a researcher, scholar, teacher and biotech entrepreneur, Dick Kouri got off to a slow start in college. He was well into his junior year when advisors at the Ohio State University told him he had to declare a major. So he pointed to the course catalog and picked microbiology.

At least that’s story that Kouri, who is director of the BioSciences Management Initiative at the Jenkins Graduate School of Management (part of Poole College), recalls 45 years later. And once he began his science career, Kouri didn’t look back. He earned a Ph.D. in radiation biology, conducted groundbreaking research into the genetics-environment link in cancer, wrote or contributed to 179 abstracts and publications, and along the way found time to start 11 bioscience companies.

The frenetic pace of Kouri’s career was evident during his post-doctoral fellowship at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, where he parlayed his experience in radiation-induced cell mutation into research on the metabolism of chemical carcinogens.

“I was there 11 months and had 10 papers published,” he said. “We did some really great stuff.”

The question driving Kouri’s research then and in the years to come: What percentage of cancers are caused by genetics, and what percentage by environmental exposure? Working with mice, Kouri and his colleagues discovered that there‘s a biochemical-genetic link that dictates an animal’s susceptibility to cancer. In other words, the mice that metabolized , or processed, an environmental toxin most efficiently were more likely to get cancer than those that had less efficient metabolisms.

Carrying on this research via his own company in Bethesda, MD, which contracted with the National Institutes of Health, “We went crazy,” recalled Kouri. “We published one paper every 13 days for 13 years. It was really cool. We really re-did mouse genetics, and we took the cancer-metabolism story further.”

At another company he helped start, Kouri and his team designed tools to take DNA apart. That work, said Kouri, helped lay the foundation for the sequencing of the human genome, which was accomplished several years ago. “It was an exciting time—it’s still an exciting time,” he said.

Although unlocking scientific puzzles consumed his waking hours, Kouri also pulled management duties at all the companies he founded or helped start. He didn’t have a business background or degree, so double-digit-hour workdays were par for the course in the early days of Kouri’s career.

The MBA students whom Kouri teaches and mentors won’t have that problem. Armed with science or technology backgrounds, they’re gaining valuable bioscience-specific business skills and knowledge from people like Kouri who’ve run or worked in bioscience firms. The biosciences-focused MBA program is one of only a few in the country.

“These young professionals can add significant value to any bioscience company that hires them,” he said.

To learn more about the BioSciences Management Initiative, visit http://biosci.poole.ncsu.edu/

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