Photo of Alejandro Zaffaroni

Alejandro Zaffaroni

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine

For his pioneering accomplishments in the field of drug discovery, commercializing novel technologies for drug discovery and drug delivery; for his visionary leadership in combining diverse disciplines to develop technologies and products to provide a new dimension to individual health and the changing needs of the pharmaceutical industry.

As a boy growing up in sports-loving Uruguay, Alejandro Zaffaroni’s asthma prevented him from playing soccer with his friends. So he turned to books and began nurturing what became a lifetime of learning and exploring – and pioneering technologies that revolutionized medicine and business.

Zaffaroni, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Republic in his hometown of Montevideo, left for the U.S. and the University of Rochester in 1945 to study biochemistry. Zaffaroni received a doctorate in 1949 and embarked on a science and business career that would include significant roles in the development of the birth control pill, drug delivery systems, and a host of Silicon Valley companies worth billions of dollars.

Zaffaroni joined Syntex, a Mexico City-based company in 1951, where he started the company’s U.S. subsidiary in Palo Alto, Calif., and was involved in the development of the birth control pill. Zaffaroni founded numerous other companies, including Alza, where he pioneered new drug delivery systems, including patches that delivered time-released dosages of nicotine, motion sickness and pain-relieving medication. Another company he started, Alexza Pharmaceuticals, developed an inhaled drug delivery system.

Zaffaroni and his wife, Lida, supported numerous humanitarian causes and were major donors to the Lida and Alejandro Zaffaroni Breast Imaging Center at the Stanford Cancer Center. Stanford University also established a scholarship program in the couple’s name for Latin American students.

By Bob Warren