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8 December 2021
From dispensing to inventing: Indiran Pather’s journey
There’s a busy little pharmacy alongside a popular chicken franchise at 358 Felix Dlamini Road in Overport with an interesting UWC connection. For 43 years, a succession of UWC pharmacists has served the local community there, starting with Indiran Pather, after whom the pharmacy is still named. 

After graduating with his BPharm from the University of Durban-Westville in 1976 and completing his internship at King George V Hospital in Durban, Dr Pather opened Pather’s Pharmacy in 1978. In 1981, he accepted a lecturing position at the UWC School of Pharmacy and asked UWC alumnus Krish Perumal to manage the pharmacy, which he sold to Krish in 1984. Later, when Krish emigrated to Australia, the pharmacy was sold to Umesh Padia, the current owner, who happened to be a student of Dr Pather’s at UWC. 

Although he was born in Durban, Dr Pather grew up in Johannesburg and Heidelberg in present-day Gauteng. His father was the principal of the Heidelberg Indian and Coloured School. He says growing up in Heidelberg was “rough as it was very verkrampt” (in fact, the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging was formed there in 1973 and initially headquartered in town). 

With no local high school open to ‘Indians’, Indiran, his brother Selvin (now a medical doctor in Durban) and other children had to commute daily to William Hills high school in Actonville 40 km away, with the costs borne by the parents. 

After matriculating, Dr Pather, who says he saw pharmacy as an opportunity to explore his interests in science and medicine, attended UDW, as did Selvin. Dr Pather began research for his MPharm degree at UWC in 1986, graduating in 1989. 

“I lived in Crawford, Athlone,” he recalls. “The university had to get a permit to employ me as I was classified ‘Indian’. I also had to get a permit to live in a ‘Coloured’ residential area.”

An exchange visit to the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) during June and July 1990 offered an escape from the bizarre pettiness of apartheid and a chance to do more advanced work. 

“Part of that time was spent at Marion Merrill Dow Pharmaceutical Company where I worked on a research project. I was awed by the equipment and facilities,” says Dr Pather, who took up an invitation to return to UWC to work on his doctorate in 1992. He was awarded his DPharm in 1996.

While at UWC, Dr Pather initiated a fee-for-service arrangement that involved paid research and development projects for local pharmaceutical companies. Part of the proceeds went into a research fund at the UWC School of Pharmacy. Dr Pather was also actively involved in fundraising for the new wing of the Pharmacy building. 

After accepting a post as a research assistant professor at UMKC, Dr Pather moved to the USA in 1996. His passion for pharmaceutical innovation drew him into a ten-year career at pharmaceutical companies from 1998, during which his expertise in novel buccal and sublingual delivery systems resulted in 20 US patents registered in his name and the successful market launch of two drugs.

He points out that he never left academia, as he was always associated with universities during his pharmaceutical company research and was involved with pharmaceutical companies whenever teaching. A seven-year period as chair and professor of pharmaceutics and then director of research at California Northstate College of Pharmacy from 2007 was particularly satisfying, as he was part of the team that founded the school. 
He served as Associate Dean at the College of Pharmacy of Larkin Health Sciences Institute in Miami from 2015 to 2017. Dr Pather has been Chair and Professor of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Howard University since 2018.

Reflecting on an illustrious career, in which he has published numerous papers and book chapters and co-edited a book (titled Oral Mucosal Drug Delivery and Therapy), Dr Pather says he is on the verge of realising one of his career goals - to publish a book on pharmaceutics. Pharmaceutics for Pharmacy Students will be published by McGraw Hill and is scheduled to hit bookshelves in 2022. 

Dr Pather, who says he enjoyed being at UWC when it was at the forefront of change, visited the campus in 2014 and was impressed by the new buildings and facilities, including the Pharmacy wing he had helped to fundraise for. He left with a treasured memento and a regular reminder of his UWC days. 

“Rafik Bapoo, now a retired Pharmacy lecturer, showed me around and also took me to the store to buy a UWC graduation gown. I use this at events in the US requiring academic regalia,” says Dr Pather.