Physician, Lawyer, Former NFL Football Player Takes a Leadership Role at Buck Institute

July 8, 2005  James Kovach, MD, JD, is the new President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Buck Institute for Age Research. The appointment, effective July 13, was announced by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dale Bredesen, MD, signaling a change in management at the Institute at a time of new growth and scientific development.

Kovach was most recently Executive Vice President and COO of Athersys, Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio biotechnology company utilizing proprietary stem cell, gene therapy and chemistry technologies to develop pharmaceuticals. He has also directed the Office of Technology Management at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.  Prior to establishing a career which spans academic medicine and the biotechnology industry, Kovach spent seven years as a middle linebacker in the National Football League, attending medical school in consecutive off seasons while he earned his degree, which was granted in 1984, with distinction.  He played with the New Orleans Saints (1979-85) and the San Francisco Forty-Niners (1985). In New Orleans Kovach was the defensive signal caller. In 1983, he was named 1st team All-National Football Conference (UPI) and was voted by his teammates as Most Valuable Player in 1983.  After completing medical school at the University of Kentucky, Kovach obtained his law degree from Stanford University.

“I’m impressed with the expertise already in place at the Buck Institute,” said Kovach. “I’m looking forward to supporting Dale’s vision for the Institute which includes internal efforts to speed the drug discovery process. I also hope to act as a ‘matchmaker’ with others in the biotechnology arena who are conducting research on aging and age related disease.” Kovach adds, “With the explosion of knowledge that has followed he completion of the Human Genome Project, I believe that we are on the verge of major advances in the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. To take advantage of the work supported by NIH and other funding sources, it is essential that we make the right connections among those doing the work.”

Kovach’s appointment comes at the beginning of accelerated growth at the Institute. Over the next two years the number of faculty is expected to increase from 13 to 22 and the employee base is expected to grow from 150 to 250. “Jim’s experience in biotechnology, both in the private sector and the university environment, makes him a great fit as we move forward with plans to reach a ‘critical mass’ of scientific expertise, “ said CEO Bredesen, who will take on the additional role of Scientific Director.  “The fact that Jim has recently worked on establishing clinical strategy for stem cell research in cancer and cardiovascular disease will be invaluable as the Institute expands its program in regenerative medicine."

At Athersys, Kovach negotiated and closed drug discovery and development alliances with global pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Corporation, and Medarex, Inc., among others. “Aging is currently underrepresented in research,” said Kovach. “But that is changing as our population grows older. The Buck Institute is uniquely poised to take advantage of opportunities to lead the field. Its sole focus on aging and its unique collaborative environment gives the Institute a real edge when it comes to seeking grant dollars and collaborative agreements with industry.”

Kovach acknowledges that he comes to the Buck Institute with insights into aging that most people don’t have.  “Professional football players are keenly aware of the aging process. Despite training as an elite athlete, during my pro career I experienced the decline in the regenerative and recuperative process that is part of the aging process, and the challenge athletes face in retiring from the game.” Kovach adds, “I’m very excited about using this experience base to help advance the scientific and other programs at the Buck Institute, which are centered on extending the healthy years of life."

Kovach replaces Carla Dingillo, who leaves the Institute after eight years as Executive Vice President. Dingillo played an instrumental role in the startup and development of the Institute, bring it from trailers to a National Institutes of Aging designated Center of Excellence in Age Research.  Her position capped a 35 year career in research administration which included similar responsibilities at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and the Medical Research Institute at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She also worked at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children in Portland, OR, and the Medical School at the University of Washington.

The Buck Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life.  Buck Institute scientists work in an innovative, interdisciplinary setting to understand the mechanisms of aging and to discover new ways of detecting, preventing and treating age-related diseases. Collaborative research at the Institute is supported by genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics technology.

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