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In memoriam: John A. Biles

Pharmacy’s dean emeritus led the profession into an active clinical role

John A. Biles, who led the USC School of Pharmacy as dean from 1968 to 1995, died on June 27 at his home in Pacific Palisades after a long illness.

Biles was a longtime advocate for the profession of pharmacy and was heralded nationwide for his leadership in transforming the profession from a dispenser of medicines to an active clinical role with a responsibility for optimizing therapeutic outcomes. It was under his leadership that the school became the first in the nation to offer students clinical clerkships modeled after those in medical schools, which have since become a foundational part of pharmacy education throughout the country.

The imprint of Dean Emeritus John Biles on our school is deep and strong.

R. Pete Vanderveen

Biles was a small man in stature with a huge acumen for paving a road for the future. Not only did he recognize the need for pharmacists to be trained and function as clinicians on the health care team, but he also saw the importance of equipping students with special skills. For example, he initiated the nation’s first PharmD/MBA in 1988 and first PharmD/certificate in gerontology in 1990, allowing students to differentiate themselves with a specialty focus.

Again, with an eye on the future, Biles also established the nation’s first Ph.D. in pharmaceutical economics and policy in 1990. At the time, this new program was visionary in its focus on cost effectiveness and health outcomes research, which today are standard areas of study. This program was the forerunner to the school’s partnership in the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC, ranked as among the best in the nation.

“The imprint of Dean Emeritus John Biles on our school is deep and strong,” said School of Pharmacy Dean R. Pete Vanderveen. “He truly stands as one of the nation’s greatest-ever pharmacy deans. Pharmacists from USC and nationwide owe him a great debt of gratitude.”

Dean Emeritus John A. Biles

Dean Emeritus John A. Biles (Photo/courtesy of USC School of Pharmacy)

Biles grew up in the small Colorado town of Del Norte. His father died before his birth and from the age of 8, he worked for a local pharmacist. According to his daughter, that early pharmacy experience was a huge influence on his ultimate career choice.

Ties to Allergan

Biles arrived at USC as an assistant professor in 1952. He had already held teaching positions at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas and Ohio State University before coming to Southern California. He brought his experience and a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Colorado. He also brought his wife, Margaret, to whom he was married for 71 years.

Before becoming dean, he was called upon by a then small company, Allergan, to help recreate the formulas for their original products that had been lost when the company’s chief chemist unexpectedly died, taking the formulas with him.

Biles recreated them and, according to Allergan Chairman Emeritus and USC Life Trustee Gavin S. Herbert, “There would be no Allergan today had John not recreated those formulas.” So began a decades-long relationship between the School of Pharmacy and Allergan, notably still providing fellowship opportunities for newly minted PhD and PharmD graduates.

At the helm of the school for 27 years and on the faculty for 45 years, Biles was a legend. While dean, he made it his business to get to know his faculty and his staff and many who served under him now recall his ability to even remember the names of their children. His door was always open, and many remember him famously telling students that they pay his salary and can come into his office anytime.

“John Biles was a renaissance man who was extremely accomplished and knowledgeable about science, business, health care, arts and literature, and was blessed with excellent leadership skills,” said Phillip Oppenheimer, dean of the Long School of Pharmacy at the University of the Pacific, who served as an associate dean under Biles at USC. “The night sky is brighter as a star has been added to the heavens.”

A turning point in the profession

Biles served in many advisory and leadership roles throughout his career. In 1975, he was among pharmacy leaders who served on the Millis Commission on Pharmacy, a report that stands as a national turning point in moving the profession from product-centered to patient-centered. He served as president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy from 1990 to 1991. He was a fellow of the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences and of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and a reviewer for the Journal of the American Medical Association from 1982 to 1989. During his career, he served as a consultant to the Bureau of Health Manpower and as a member of the National Advisory Council on Education for Health Professions and the National Advisory Health Services Research Council. In 2003, he was selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in America.

Noteworthy awards at USC included the 1962 Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching, the 1998 Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2001 Teaching and Mentoring Award. His alma mater, the University of Colorado, honored him with the Distinguished Coloradan Award in 1992. The USC School of Pharmacy houses the John A. Biles Professorship in Pharmaceutical Sciences, currently held by Professor Wei-Chiang Shen, and the Margaret and John Biles Scholarship.

Biles is survived by his wife, Margaret, their daughter Paula Murphy, son-in-law Patrick Murphy and two grandsons, Brendon and Christopher Murphy.

A memorial service will be held on Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. at the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church, 15821 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.

In lieu of flowers, friends may honor Biles by donating to the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church by mailing checks to the above address. Please send these to the attention of Nancy Takacs, noting “Biles-Music” in the check memo. Alternatively, friends may give to the educational institution, foundation or charitable organization of their choice in memory of Biles. For those wishing to make a gift to the USC School of Pharmacy, donations may be sent to Jennifer Watson, USC School of Pharmacy, 1985 Zonal Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089-9121. Please note “Dean Emeritus John Biles” in the check memo.

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