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Donors honor professor emeritus with creation of Carstensen Chair

September 20, 2011

Mahendra Patel (M.S.’74, Ph.D.’78 pharmaceutics), founder and CEO of Navinta LLC, and wife Jayshree Patel have made a $1 million gift to establish the Jens T. Carstensen Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy.

The gift honors Carstensen, professor emeritus from the school, for his “extraordinary contributions to the School of Pharmacy, to his students and to the pharmaceutical sciences.”

“Meeting Professor Carstensen and going to the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy under him to get my Ph.D. were life-changing events for me,” says Mahendra Patel, of Milltown, N.J. “Jens Carstensen steered me in the right direction, and whatever I have accomplished in my professional life, he played a key role.”

School of Pharmacy Dean Jeanette Roberts says the Carstensen Chair will have a great and lasting impact. “I want to thank Dr. Patel and Mrs. Patel for their generosity and vision in making the gift,” she says. “I firmly believe that recruiting and retaining world-class faculty will be the single most important factor in determining scientific and educational excellence for pharmacy schools in the 21st century.”

“It will also be the greatest challenge, as competition for the best faculty continues to intensify,” Roberts adds. “A strong faculty raises the caliber of education, research and expertise available at UW–Madison and to the community.”

For his part, Carstensen was honored and humbled. “It’s unbelievable that Dr. and Mrs. Patel would do this,” he says. “When Mahendra called to let me know they were doing this, he said something very dear: ‘I wouldn’t be where I am without having known you.’ It doesn’t come higher than that, does it?”

Patel arrived at UW–Madison in the winter of 1972 and spent one year studying chemical engineering. “At that time, I did not belong in engineering,” he says. “I considered going into pharmacy, and Professor Jens Carstensen was a chemical engineer. Then he did his Ph.D. in physical chemistry.

“The work that Carstensen was doing had direct applications in the industry and impact on patients,” Patel says. “A lot of work is done that might be called blue sky, pie in the sky, good theory and learning, but at the end of the day there is no practical application. His work was directly affecting what would happen in the industry, with better practices that were used to help patients.”

After working with various firms in the pharmaceutical industry, Patel started his own business with partners, eventually selling that enterprise to Santos Group. He then founded what is now Navinta LLC, which specializes in the formulation and production of generic medicines.

Beginning in 1974, Patel was a graduate student of Carstensen’s. “He worked for me for about three years,” Carstensen says. “We had an excellent working relationship.

“Mahendra had an engineering background, which helped a lot, because my undergraduate degree was in engineering. The work that we did was primarily engineering work,” he adds. “It dealt with blending theories, considering blending as a diffusional process.

“A lot of the things that we established actually were used later on by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in their quest for content uniformity,” Carstensen says.

Carstensen was born in the United States but grew up in Denmark. “I came back to the United States in 1950, on St. Patrick’s Day, and I didn’t know a soul in the world over here.”

He began working in the pharmaceutical industry with American Cyanamid Co., Lederle Labs and Hoffman LaRoche. While working at Hoffman LaRoche, he earned his Ph.D. at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

Professor Takeru Higuchi recruited Carstensen to UW–Madison in 1967, and his academic career took off. Carstensen wrote eight influential textbooks and published many studies, a good deal of them the outgrowth of work done with Patel.

Carstensen also developed his artistic side as a painter, and his work in various media is in high demand.

“I want to see that Professor Carstensen’s legacy continues,” Mahendra Patel says. “I would like to see work along the lines of what Professor Carstensen has done in shaping the fundamentals of pharmaceutical chemistry.”