EXECUTIVE Q&A WITH WILLIAM ORR

CEO finds career in drug research

The Oklahoman
October 24, 2010
By Susan Simpson

At a glance
Position: CEO of Lynn Health Science Institute, Oklahoma City
Education: Bachelor’s degree University of Delaware; master’s and doctorate from Washington University, St. Louis
Family: Wife Carol; two adult children, two adult stepchildren
Favorite quote: “Thought makes the whole dignity of man; therefore endeavor to think well, that is the only morality.”
Favorite books: “John Adams” and “1776”, both by David McCullough
Hobbies: Hiking, biking, snow skiing.

If a career testing disease-fighting drugs doesn’t give you a sense of life’s swift passage, a high school reunion will.¬†William Orr, CEO of the Lynn Health Science Institute, recently traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for his 50th high school reunion.

“Having your 50th high school reunion gives you a sense of reality and mortality,” he said. “But it was great fun; it really was.”

Orr, 69, said he has no plans to slow down. He established the research institute in 1989 as an outreach of Baptist Medical Center. It became a separate entity in 1997. With about 70 employees, the Lynn Institute conducts clinical trials out of offices in Oklahoma City, Norman and Colorado.

Here’s an edited transcript of a recent interview with Orr:
Q: Did your interest in research begin early in life?
A: It started when I first went to graduate school. I got caught with the bug of science and research, particularly in the area of neuroscience. I’ve always been fascinated with how the brain works.

Q: The Lynn Institute conducts about 150 drug trials at any time now, down about 20 percent from a few years ago. Why the reduction?
A: Drug company clinical trials have become notably less in number directly due to the increase in outsourcing of clinical trials to other countries. In addition, the downturn in the economy has also resulted in a decrease in drug development and generally smaller study budgets. It takes 10 years to develop a drug and the cost is right in the range of $1 billion.
The only encouraging news is that the lifeline of drug companies is research and development and so that will always continue in order for them to stay in business.

Q: How has the Lynn Institute responded to those challenges?
A: Regrettably this has forced us to downsize to some extent, but we have made every effort to absorb this via natural attrition. We have also spent a great deal of management time examining our day to day operations to see if we can enhance the efficiency of how we do business. Actually, this was a positive rather than a negative since it required close scrutiny of every aspect of our day to day operations.

Q: What’s ahead for your industry, the future of drug testing and trials?
A: Since new drugs are the lifeline of any drug company, research and development into new drugs must continue. However, I do not see any hint of a recovery to previous levels of activity in the near future. There is considerable concern about the general state of the economy, and the new health care legislation has also created much uncertainly in terms of how it might affect future revenues.
We do feel fortunate at The Lynn Institute that we have a very diversified portfolio of studies and capabilities. We are not dependent on development of drugs in one area of medicine, but rather we are able to respond to requests for studies in a wide range of medical disorders. We feel this will allow us to continue to be successful in these difficult economic times.

Q: You have a great view of Lake Hefner from your office. Do you live in Oklahoma City?
A: Yes, but my wife and I spend a week a month in Colorado Springs because I have a unit in Colorado Springs. I made sure of that, by the way. It’s a clone of this organization but it’s just smaller. I enjoy the mountains, hiking and biking and skiing.

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