U-M selects leader for North Campus Research Complex

David Canter returns to former Pfizer site to spearhead its use by U-M researchers and private-sector partners


David Canter

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Exactly one year after purchasing a 174-acre research campus formerly used for advanced pharmaceutical development, the University of Michigan has selected the leader who will steer the site's transformation into a vibrant home for academic and private-sector research. 

And for that leader, it will also be a homecoming.

David Canter, a physician, scientist and respected leader, once led the Pfizer pharmaceutical research operation on the site now known as the U-M North Campus Research Complex or NCRC. Now, pending the approval of the U-M Board of Regents, he will be the Executive Director of the NCRC beginning July 19. 

In that role, Canter will have responsibility for mapping, developing and implementing the University's strategy to make the most of the site's 30 buildings and dozens of acres of open land. 

"I have every confidence that with David Canter's leadership, we will fulfill the promise that this extraordinary facility holds," says U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. "He will guide the NCRC in creating new knowledge and accelerating economic growth for our region."

Some U-M research support staff have already begun moving into office buildings on the site. But much more work remains to map out the future of NCRC's research laboratories, manufacturing space, amenities and vacant land. 

"I can think of no one better suited to guide the development of NCRC and transform our University's approach to multidisciplinary research and partnership with the private sector," says Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D., U-M executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of the U-M Health System. "His expertise extends far beyond familiarity with the physical property, into understanding what it takes to achieve innovation, and to translate discoveries to products that benefit humankind."

Canter is already at U-M. After nearly 25 years in pharmaceutical research and leadership, he became director of the Healthcare Research Initiative at the William Davidson Institute, a non-profit research and educational institute established at the University of Michigan in 1992. Since 2008, he has led an effort to test business-based approaches to improving health care delivery in developing nations. 

Canter first came to Michigan - and the property now known as NCRC -- in 1986 as a vice president with Warner Lamber/Parke-Davis, which was then purchased by Pfizer in 2000. He led Pfizer's operations in Michigan as a senior vice president in Pfizer Global Research and Development from 2000 until 2008. 

In early 2007, Pfizer announced it would close the Ann Arbor research operation by the end of 2008, ending a 50-year history of pharmaceutical research and development on the site now known as NCRC. In December 2008, U-M announced its intention to buy the site, and the purchase was completed on June 16, 2009. 

"I'm honored to be chosen as the first executive leader of the NCRC team," says Canter. "It was a bold move by the University to purchase the Pfizer site, and using it to its fullest potential will bring many challenges and opportunities. I'm excited to be involved in the early stages." 

A native of England, Canter received his undergraduate degree from Cambridge University, and his medical degree (designated as an MB ChB) from the Liverpool University Medical School. After several years with the National Health Service, he joined Warner Lambert/Parke-Davis in 1984. Except for his first two years with the company in England, and three years with Pfizer in Paris in the late 1990s, he has spent his entire career in Ann Arbor. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

He has served on the boards of many local and regional organizations, from the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor Committee to the University Musical Society, and is well-connected to the region's business and academic community. These connections will be vital to his role as executive director of NCRC, which has many stakeholders across the University and in the city, region and state. 

During his pharmaceutical research career, Canter was responsible for the development of several marketed medicines including Lipitor (atorvastatin), the world's top-selling drug since 2001.

His return to the NCRC site will feature some familiar faces, including Joan Keiser, Ph.D., a former leader and researcher at the Pfizer Ann Arbor site who has served as the managing director for NCRC since late 2009. U-M has also hired several members of the former Pfizer facilities and security teams to oversee the site during reactivation. 

Canter will report to Pescovitz, while serving the entire U-M research community and acting as a liaison to the private sector. Shortly after the purchase, Pescovitz was asked by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman to lead NCRC planning on behalf of the University. 
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Written by Kara Gavin

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