Benet honored in symposium with endowed professorship

On his 87th birthday, and in tribute to his pioneering career bridging laboratory research on pharmacokinetics with advances in clinical pharmacology, Leslie Z. Benet, PhD–– one of the School’s most influential faculty members––was honored in a symposium on May 17, 2024, with an endowed professorship bearing his name.

For over 20 years, Benet chaired UCSF’s Department of Pharmacy, which, under his leadership, became the Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences and then later the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS). He supervised more than 55 PhD theses and 100 postdoc students. He also regularly advised the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), proposing guidance in the field of bioequivalence.

Many of the attendees who honored Benet in a tribute that occasionally took on the flavor of a roast––albeit one peppered with scientific mini-presentations that reflected Benet’s impact on the pharmacy community––felt that the professorship was a long time coming for someone whose name has become synonymous with pharmacokinetics.

Lifelong mentorship beyond the lab

About 20 admirers of Benet posed on a stairwell

Dozens of faculty, collaborators, former lab members, and regulatory professionals gathered to pay tribute to Leslie K. Benet, PhD.

One speaker after another reiterated the personal and generous interest Benet has consistently taken in his students. Several referred to Benet’s “famous” red notebook that is always in his pocket, meticulously recording names and details about everyone who has ever been in the Benet lab.

Sara Kenkare-Mitra, PhD, said Benet was more than a professor, mentor, and friend. “He nurtured a huge number of minds and created a broader family through mentorship,” she said. “His biggest impact was on people––something that isn’t communicated in a Wikipedia page.”

“Les was a pioneer in reaching out and hiring women scientists,” said Francis Szoka, PhD, noting that the department under his leadership “went from no female scientists to five out of 12, the highest percentage of women scientists on this campus.”

A lifetime of achievement

An exceedingly long list of accolades marks Benet’s 50+ years in the field of pharmacy. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), the American College of Clinical Pharmacology (ACCP), and the Controlled Release Society (CRS). He is internationally recognized as a founder of AAPS, one of the world’s largest scientific societies. He is also a past chair of the International Pharmaceutical Federation and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

In 2023, Benet received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Frankfurt Foundation Quality of Medicines (FFQM), a German scientific organization dedicated to promoting and recognizing research on medicinal products. In 2016, Benet received the Remington Honor Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). In 2017, a full-day symposium in his honor was held in conjunction with the Pharmaceutical Sciences World Congress in Stockholm, Sweden.

Congratulating him on the lifetime achievement award, Dean Kathy Giacomini, PhD, BSPharm, said, “Les is an icon in the world of pharmaceutical sciences, but it’s his tireless dedication to mentoring and leadership that has left an indelible mark on countless scientists, clinicians, and faculty.”

His work has allowed drug dosing to be increasingly individualized to patients based on health status, disease state, potential drug interactions, and other factors.

“The concepts and policies he has introduced have permeated our practices and promoted the personalized use of medicines,” Dean Emeritus Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, PharmD, has said of Benet’s contributions.

Respecting the scientific process

Benet summed up his teaching philosophy by describing his pursuit of continual learning. “I teach clinicians to suspend disbelief and scientists to suspend belief,” he said, adding that he advises students with a warning, “What I teach you today can be wrong tomorrow.”

Laurene Wang, PhD, commented that “many of Benet’s students have retired, but he’s going strong,” an assertion confirmed by his ever-expanding list of citations.

Benet has been listed since 2001 by Clarivate Analytics as one of the most highly cited pharmacologists worldwide, with his published, peer-reviewed papers cited over 35,000 times. Google Scholar credits him with over 54,000 citations. His seven books, 12 patents, and nine honorary degrees span the areas of pharmacokinetics, biopharmaceutics, drug delivery, and pharmacodynamics.

Titled “In Tribute to Excellence: The Pioneering Contributions of Les Benet,” the symposium highlighted Benet’s many contributions to UCSF students, faculty, and staff. It included keynote presentations from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Robert S. Langer, ScD, and UCSF Professor Carl Peck, MD, Dr. h.c.

Benet was born into a family of pharmacists. His early work included noncompartmental methods for calculating clearance and volume of distribution, and his paper on the volume of distribution is the most highly cited article in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Today, Benet serves as a member of the editorial boards of Pharmacology and AAPS Journal, and his most recent work addressed the deficiencies of in vitro to in vivo extrapolation (IVIVE) and different approaches to advancing our understanding and prediction of clearance processes. For the past 15 years, he has served as chair of the board of directors of Medicines360, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company emphasizing products for women’s health.

“Les supported students while they were students, after they graduated, and helped them get jobs,” said Szoka. “We all learned that this is the most important thing we can do as scientists, is contribute to the next generation of scientists.”

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School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.