Considering Professor Michael Pikal and His Legacy

March 8, 2018

A leader in lyophilization, Mr. Pikal led pioneering research and trained some of the field’s leading practitioners.

Michael J. Pikal, professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Connecticut, passed away on February 26, 2018. He had worked there since 1996 and retired in December 2017. 

As University of Connecticut Dean James Halpert wrote in an obituary in UConn Today, Professor Pikal was “instrumental in developing pharmaceutical sciences [at the college] through cutting edge research, training contributions, and global collaborations.  He was truly one of a kind, and an inspirational personality in every way.”

Pikal had a BS in chemistry from St. John’s University in Minnesota and a PhD in physical chemistry from Iowa State University, with additional post-doctoral training at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California.  He worked as assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Tennessee before joining Lilly Research Laboratories in the early 1970s. Mr. Pikal became a senior research scientist and won the 1996 president’s award for his work at the company.

After returning to academia at the University of Connecticut, Mr. Pikal was named the first Pfizer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutical Technology in 2005.

Pikal’s research in freeze drying was a crucial driver in the college’s collaborations with research groups such as the Center for Pharmaceutical Processing Research (CPPR), the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education (NIPTE), and the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL).

A Fellow of AAPS, Mr. Pikal received the AAPS Research Achievement Award in Pharmaceutical Technologies in 2001 and the Criofarma Award in Freeze Drying in 2006. In 2009, he became one of fewer than 20 scientists to receive the AAPS’ Distinguished Pharmaceutical Scientist Award, which recognizes achievements that have had a lasting impact on the industry.

At the University of Connecticut, Mr. Pikal’s research spanned freeze drying, solid-state chemistry/materials science of pharmaceuticals and protein stability. He also contributed to more than 170 publications in these fields, collaborating with a wide array of private companies as well as academics.

As his colleague Steve Nail observed in the UConn Today obituary, “Mike is just in a different league than most of the rest of us. One of the many things we love about him is that he never makes us feel that way.”

Mr. Pikal trained more than 40 PhD graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars, and leaves behind his wife, Janice, five children, and grandchildren.  

Testimonials to his personality and character are clearly in evidence in the online guestbook signed after his funeral, by friends, former colleagues and students from around the world.  Below are some excerpts.

“Dr. Pikal was one of the most available scientists I have had the pleasure of working with. His door was always open, and he made time, sometimes [even] when he had none to give.”
– Cindy Reiter

“I worked with Mike at Eli Lilly and Company for many years. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he was a true gentleman who was always considerate of his colleagues. Whenever I had a tough problem related to parenteral technology, I would go to his office and he would put his pipe in his mouth and start to think about possible solutions. He usually found the right one. He will be sorely missed." – Alan Dinner

“The inspiration, mentoring, and joy for science that Mike brought will always be remembered. We at the University of Michigan were privileged to have you teach and advise many of our students. Thanks for always being there to share with us and with our students, [and] to explain the most difficult concepts in such a natural and simple way! Because of your mentoring, many of us reached beyond what we ever imagined...May you rest in peace.” – Naír Rodriguez-Hornedo

Dr. Pikal showed a high level of passion for science and cared for his students. He has touched a number of lives and I am indebted for his help while I was a student. We will miss him dearly.
– Vinay Radhakrishnan