South Dakota State University’s College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions’ 3D Center now has a new namesake—the Haarberg Center for Drug, Disease and Delivery Research, thanks to a transformational $1.1 million gift from Kevin and Lorie Haarberg.
“It takes a village,” said Omathanu Perumal, a professor and associate dean for research for the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, at the Sept. 8 naming ceremony. “Several people have played an important part in this journey, starting with current and past deans of the college, current and past department heads for pharmaceutical sciences, university leaders, the SDSU Foundation, faculty colleagues, graduate students, researchers and, more importantly, Kevin and Lorie. A big thank you to all of them.
“It is an understatement when I say that the Haarbergs are intertwined with the college’s research growth,” Perumal added. “The Haarbergs have been an important part of every major milestone in the college’s research growth.”
The partnership between SDSU and the Haarbergs began in 2010, when the couple provided a gift that was instrumental in remodeling the cell culture facility in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. As Kevin Haarberg explains, the reason they decided to focus their efforts on cancer research was because of his wife’s own personal experiences.
“She lost both of her parents to this dreaded disease, plus she has always had a passion for the medical world, as witnessed by her many years of volunteerism at our local hospital and clinic,” he said. “For me, it was always about my love for SDSU in general, and the College of Pharmacy in particular. It was a perfect fit when Provost Dennis Hedge and the SDSU Foundation’s associate vice president for development, Mike Birgen, planted the seed that the college was going to focus and expand the research side of the equation, and would Lorie and I be interested?”
The Haarbergs’ partnership with SDSU continued in 2017, when they established the Haarberg Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, which helped the college recruit Komal Raina to campus, Perumal explained. The endowment also served as matching dollars to help secure state funding for the expansion of the research space for the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and for upgrading the SDSU animal facility.
The Haarbergs have included SDSU in their estate plan, with a $10 million gift intention.
“The big idea is to weave together diverse faculty expertise from across the university, together with experts and stakeholders from other universities and the private sector, to solve difficult diseases by repurposing existing drugs with finely optimized delivery,” said Daniel Scholl, vice president of research and economic development at SDSU. “That is adding efficiency to effectiveness in health care. I cannot think of many things more relevant than that for SDSU research.”
In 2019, after a conversation between Perumal and the Haarbergs, the idea for the 3D Center emerged.
Grant funding for the center—a five-year, $3.9 million grant from the South Dakota Research and Commercialization Council—was secured in large part because of the Haarbergs’ continued support, which was critical in demonstrating the long-term sustainability of the center.
“With their initial investment in the Haarberg Center for Drug, Disease and Delivery Research of $1.1 million, and their planned gift of $10 million,” explained Dan Hansen, dean of the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, “the Haarbergs will ensure that the work being done here at SDSU will transform how we treat cancer and other emerging diseases, long into the future.”
The 3D Center builds on the college’s research strengths in drug, disease and delivery systems to develop team science and collaborative research through partnership with the health systems and other universities in the state, Perumal said.
Drug repurposing, one of the major focus areas in the 3D Center, is using an approved drug for a new indication/disease, making chemical modifications to an existing drug, or repackaging the drug in a new delivery system to improve therapeutic efficacy and safety, Perumal explained. It takes approximately $2 billion and around 12-15 years to develop a new drug. More importantly, only one in 10,000 compounds will succeed and make it to the market.
“On the other hand, repurposing an existing drug can reduce the cost and development time by half,” Perumal said. “In fact, there are around 3,000 approved drugs on the market, which provide a huge opportunity for developing new therapies.”
According to Perumal, around 30% of current therapies on the market use repurposed drugs. An example of a recently repurposed drug is Remdesivir, which failed in clinical trials for Ebola, but was used for the treatment of COVID.
SDSU will join a select number of universities in the United States that also have a drug repurposing center.
“Clearly, the Haarberg 3D Research Center is about scientific discovery for the betterment of people’s lives, but its impact is also through an integration of the scientific development into education,” Scholl said. “The graduate students who invest their time in 3D’s collaborating labs will draw on the center’s framework to launch careers as high-impact scientists. Students preparing to be the next generation of pharmacists are already seeing the systemically holistic 3D approach integrated into their education. Groundbreaking research and excellent education are tightly interwoven with one another. The Haarberg 3D Research Center shows how it’s done.”
“In addition to the 3D Research Center having a vision statement and a mission statement, we love that the SDSU team also has a goal to license a repurposed drug by 2030,” Kevin Haarberg said.
“This center will have a lasting impact in supporting and sustaining drug development research at SDSU,” Perumal said. “Kevin and Lorie—thank you for helping us translate the vision into reality.”