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Gerhard Levy, 89, pioneering UB pharmaceutical researcher

Feb. 2, 1928 – Aug. 3, 2017

Gerhard Levy had a profound effect on the drugs we take.

In his research with students and colleagues at the University at Buffalo in the 1960s, he looked into how medicines are absorbed into the body, how they are distributed, how their effectiveness fades and how they are eliminated.

Those findings, which have become the guiding principles for development, dosages and approval of drugs, gained Dr. Levy worldwide renown.

He received numerous awards, including six honorary doctorates and 20 honorary lectureships at universities and other venues. When the International Pharmaceutical Federation created its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, he was the first recipient.

Retired from UB since 2000, he died Aug. 3 in Sarasota, Fla. He was 89.

Born in Wollin, Germany, an island in the Baltic Sea, now Wolin, Poland, he was the only Jewish student in his school until he was transferred to a Jewish school in Caputh, Germany, where Albert Einstein once had a summer house.

After the Kristallnacht attacks on Jews in 1938, his father sold his business, a clothing store, and his family moved to Berlin. A year later, they emigrated by train through the Soviet Union to Japanese-occupied China, where they spent the war years in the Shanghai Ghetto.

He attended plumbing school in China and worked as an apprentice in a pharmacy. After the war, he hoped to move to Israel until the family received sponsorship to go to the United States in 1948. They settled in San Francisco, where he attended the University of California, San Francisco, earning a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in pharmacy.

He joined the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1958 as an assistant professor and became acting department chairman the following year.

A pioneer in the field of biopharmaceutics, he established UB’s first undergraduate course on the subject in 1963.

“I coined the term" biopharmaceutics, he told an interviewer in 1994, "to describe my work — and of other people — which looked at the effects of the pharmaceutical dosage form on the therapeutic efficacy of dosage.”

In the early 1960s, he and his students determined the mathematical relationships between drug concentrations and their effects, and developed a procedure that is now a standard quality-control test used by research laboratories to measure and control the absorption of the medicinal agents in drugs.

Part of his research focused on aspirin projects, their absorption, their impact on gastrointestinal bleeding and how they are metabolized.

His seminal paper, “Kinetics of Pharmacological Effects,” was presented at the fourth International Congress of Chemotherapy in 1965 in Washington, D.C.

“Gary Levy ... was highly innovative as a researcher, recognizing basic mechanisms of drug disposition and actions that established the foundations of the field of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics,” said his longtime colleague William J. Junko, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UB.

On his memorial page, a former student, Dr. Svein Oie, dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Georgia, noted, “He believed in and provided high standards of work. He was strict; he expected quality and perfection, and he demanded that his proteges have an in-depth understanding of the subject at hand. ... The core principles that personified Gary and defined his groundbreaking work are as valid today as they were more than half a century ago.”

He chaired the Department of Pharmaceutics at UB from 1966 to 1970, directed the Clinical Pharmacokinetics Research Center from 1979 to 1988 and received emeritus status in 1995. Dozens of his students and postdoctoral fellows have become leaders in the field.

He started and funded the Buffalo Pharmaceutics Scholar Award at UB, which recognizes outstanding doctoral students. Upon his retirement, UB established a lectureship and a seminar room in his name.

In recent years, he lived in Sarasota, serving as a consultant and an expert trial witness.

His wife of 59 years, Rosalyn “Roz,” died June 14.

Survivors include two sons, Rabbi David and Marc; a daughter, Dr. Sharon Cohen; and three grandchildren.

A graveside service was held Aug. 7 in Sarasota.

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