Mutual Admiration Society: Founder of Research Campus pals around with ‘greatest scientific brains’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2008

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLISóFor someone who dropped out of ninth grade, David Murdock pals around with some pretty highly educated people.
As creator of the N.C. Research Campus, a biotechnology complex that boasts seven university partners with more on the way, Murdock often hosts the academic elite at his Pity Sake Lodge in Landis.
Murdock’s relationship with leaders of the University of North Carolina System and Duke University has progressed beyond business. He considers them friends, and the feeling seems mutual.
At the recent gala opening of Duke University’s MURDOCK Study office in Kannapolis, Murdock said he was proud to be friends with the “greatest scientific brains in the world.”
He has developed an interesting and perhaps unlikely friendship with Dr. Victor Dzau, Duke’s powerful chancellor for health affairs and president of the Duke University Health System.
Murdock alluded to their relationship during his speech in Kannapolis.
“Dr. Victor Dzau ó a pretty tough guy,” Murdock said. “He likes his way, same way I do. That’s the way you get things done.”
Lynne Scott Safrit, president of campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina, said Murdock “greatly admires” Dzau, who accepted Murdock’s $35 million gift last year. The money launched Duke’s health study that bears Murdock’s name.
The last time the billionaire owner of Dole Food Co. was in town, Murdock dined with Dzau alone, Safrit said.
The next day, Murdock flew to Durham and toured several Duke institutes. Duke Medicine held a reception for him, where he spoke to a select group of medical students about his vision for the N.C. Research Campus.
Finally, he robed and had the rare honor of participating in the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony at Duke Chapel.
“It was a wonderful day,” Safrit said.
Murdock sees his new friends about once a month when he comes to Kannapolis. Several of them also serve on the board of directors for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, the nonprofit charity that owns and operates the Core Laboratory at the N.C. Research Campus.
Murdock, Duke and the UNC System each have three seats on the board. One Duke seat already has changed hands.
Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the School of Medicine, served for a short time before stepping down due to time constraints, said Dr. Steve Leath, board president.
“Nancy was too busy with her new job as dean to give the board the time it needs as we start this large project,” said Leath, vice president for research for the UNC System.
Duke replaced Andrews with Dr. Sandy Williams, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the School of Medicine.
Williams is a practicing cardiologist and researcher. He served as the dean of the School of Medicine for six years before taking his new job in 2007.
He spent two days at the Research Campus this week.
The top priority for Murdock’s board is finding a world-renowned scientist to direct the Core Lab.
Duke’s other two seats on the board belong to Dzau and Dr. Rob Califf, principal investigator for the MURDOCK Study.
The UNC System’s three seats belong to Leath, Dr. Steve Lommel of N.C. State University and Dr. Tony Waldrop of UNC at Chapel Hill.
Murdock holds one seat, as does as his science adviser, Dr. Andrew Conrad. Murdock’s third seat remains vacant, presumably for the future director of the Dole Research Institute, which will open in Kannapolis this fall.
Contact Emily Ford at eford@salisbury