Dr. Kirk Ways ’73 came to Bridgewater College with a well-laid-out plan. The son of a pharmacist wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but a single Bridgewater course and professor changed Ways’ path. Today he is semi-retired after a nearly half-century career as an internationally acclaimed drug developer.
“I saw the future,” Ways says of his experience in chemistry professor Dr. John Martin’s class. “And what I saw excited me.”
Ways took a chemistry elective with Martin ’44 during Interterm in the spring of his final year at Bridgewater. The professor took his students on a trip to a since-shuttered pharmaceutical company in Richmond, Va. Ways recalls seeing scientists working in the research and development laboratory. The experience “cemented” his future, he recalls.
Ways graduated from Bridgewater magna cum laude in 1973 as a general science major before going on to earn an M.D. and Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since graduation, he has served in high-level roles at the East Carolina School of Medicine, Eli Lilly Research Laboratories, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Nuvelution Pharma, BioStratum and Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development.
During his career, Ways led the drug development process resulting in Apidra, a fast-acting insulin used for diabetes treatment. He also directed the team developing Invokana, the first drug approved in the United States to treat type 2 diabetes by allowing the body to eliminate elevated amounts of glucose through urination.
Ways’ research over the decades also contributed to the science behind Ozempic, the drug developed for diabetes that has exploded in popularity over the past few years due to its use for weight loss. “For 20 years, I was involved in developing drugs regulating glucose and weight,” Ways says. “And in the next five or six years, Ozempic is going to be eclipsed by another drug.”
Ways has authored more than 100 papers, many published in peer-reviewed journals, on diabetes and cancer. Now in his semi-retirement, he has joined the board for biotech company Spruce Biosciences and serves as a consultant to biopharmaceutical companies and venture capital firms around the world.
“The consulting keeps me engaged with the profession. I get to think about problems and problem-solve, which is what I have always enjoyed,” Ways says. “But I can also spend time with my wife, do things that make her happy and travel.”
While at Bridgewater, Ways was an Alpha Chi honor society member and played all four years on the golf team. Beyond Martin’s chemistry elective, he says the golf team was the most impactful part of his Bridgewater experience, giving him a sense of camaraderie and leadership skills that have served him throughout his career. Ways still enjoys playing golf in his free time today.
“I was very focused on science when I was at Bridgewater,” Ways says. “But other than science and golf, it was my relationship with the other students that was important.”
– Shea Gibbs