Alumnus Profile: Harry C. Knipp, 76

Harry C. Knipp, '76

“I seemed to move with whatever it was that excited me,” he says. One day it was pediatrics, the next psychiatry, then emergency medicine. He settled on internal medicine, graduating with honors before training at Maryland.

Chasing Dreams

Melvin Sharoky, ’76, put himself through college flipping pizzas, sweeping floors, and working the graveyard shift at a circuit board maker. “I did whatever it took,” he says.

The humble beginnings aren’t lost on the Baltimore native. At 55, Sharoky has made enough money to set up his own charitable foundation, is a partner in three restaurants in the Baltimore area, owns a couple of houses, and runs a pharmaceutical company that has just released a drug poised to be a blockbuster.

“Any success that has come along, has been a result of chasing dreams,” says Sharoky, who is married and has three children. “That’s what I have taught my kids.”
Sharoky is president and chief executive of Somerset Pharmaceuticals, a Tampa, Florida-based research and development company. This past February, Somerset received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for EMSAM, a selegiline transdermal system. It’s the first transdermal patch for the treatment of major depressive disorders in adults. Bristol-Myers Squibb has exclusive distribution rights to EMSAM.

“EMSAM is huge,” says Sharoky. “Physicians who have been using EMSAM are giving it nice responses,” he adds. “It will make an immediate impact on people and their lives. By 2020, depression will be the number one disease in this country.”

The deal, indeed, is big for Somerset, which is jointly owned by Mylan Laboratories and Watson Pharmaceuticals. “And it lays the groundwork for doing additional research,” Sharoky says.

Growing up in blue-collar Baltimore, Sharoky never fathomed that one day he would run an R&D company, help develop life-altering drugs, and have enough money to pump into pet projects like restaurants. His father worked in construction and died from a coronary at 59, and his mother worked in personnel at Sears. “My background didn’t suggest that I would have become a doctor,” says Sharoky, the oldest of two sons. “I wanted to play baseball with Brooks and Frank Robinson. But I realized very quickly that wasn’t going to happen.”

Sharoky majored in biology in college and showed considerable aptitude by graduating cum laude. He received a scholarship to go to medical school, but it wasn’t easy for him to pin down a specialty. “I seemed to move with whatever it was that excited me,” he says. One day it was pediatrics, the next psychiatry, then emergency medicine. He settled on internal medicine, graduating with honors before training at Maryland. Sharoky received certification in both emergency and internal medicine. He liked internal medicine because it fed his need to investigate and work with patients. Emergency medicine kept his adrenaline pumping. During residency training, Sharoky and his partner, Lawrence Blob, ’76, moonlighted at PharmaKinetics Laboratories, Inc., a Baltimore pharmaceutical company. The two designed studies to see how drugs were absorbed and metabolized in the body.

“I believed I could significantly impact the lives of patients with a new drug, a new form of therapy,” Sharoky recalls. “That seemed like a wonderful challenge. I thought, ‘Boy, I can do this research and still interact with patients.’” In 1986, PharmaKinetics’ medical director resigned, and Sharoky was asked to step in and help. Two years later, he joined Bolar Pharmaceutical Company, setting up a division in Baltimore to study new drugs. He recommended his company buy Eldepryl, a drug designed to treat Parkinson’s. It was a hit. “That launched my career,” Sharoky says. “It made a huge difference in the lives of a lot of people.”

Sharoky moved to New York in 1991 where Bolar was based, was named president in 1993, and changed the company’s name to Circa Pharmaceuticals. Two years later, the company merged with California-based Watson Pharmaceuticals, and Sharoky became president. While running Circa on the east coast and Watson on the west coast, he also headed Somerset in Tampa—a subsidiary of Watson. For nearly a year, he commuted each week to all three locations. “It was a wild year. I was a zombie,” Sharoky recalls. “I was constantly losing track of the time zones.”

While jetting from one coast to the other, his team at Somerset continued to explore other uses for Eldepryl. They found that if used as a transdermal patch, it would bypass the liver and relieve symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder. Finally, in 1998, he decided to focus on running Somerset to be closer to its research and development work.

Sharoky says there is more clinical work to be done on EMSAM; so it will keep him busy. He sits on the board of directors of Insmed, Inc., a Glen Allen, Virginia-based biopharmaceutical company, and Andrx Corp., a publicly traded pharmaceutical company in Fort Lauderdale which has agreed to merge with Watson. The family charitable foundation is also consuming some of his time, as is sitting on the medical school’s board of visitors which he joined several years ago. “I’ve made a decision to do things I really enjoy,” says Sharoky, who was recently in Baltimore on a sweltering day to help paint a room in his daughter’s apartment.

Sharoky says he has seized opportunities along the way and has been fortunate. “For a blue-collar kid to look out and see where I am today, I don’t know if it gets any better,” he concludes.

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