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Sunday, June 11, 2017

“Brian was changing the batteries, I was holding the sun umbrellas, Steve was swimming in his sweat and Eugene was calm as a cucumber.” Nigel Walker, Driver (Lamborghini)
 
Bristol, Tennessee
 
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At long last, a day of rest.

Rest being relative, of course—this was still the Road to BIO. Even on Sunday, Nigel and Eugene woke just slightly later than usual and cleaned the car for the next sponsor visit, scheduled to take place at high noon. As the last of the moisture faded from the car’s glittering exterior under an already scorching sun, a family stopped by while on their way to Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s “down-home” theme park located about 100 miles southwest in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. By then, the Road to BIO gang was all up, performing their well-rehearsed song and dance for the three-person audience. But when Nigel offered the family’s three-year old son the chance to sit in the car, it all became a little too much.

“He burst into tears,” Nigel recalled.

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The team’s first call to action was at Bristol Motor Speedway with two members of UPM Pharmaceuticals’ executive leadership team, President & CEO James Gregory and Vice President of R&D Ed Scholtz, Ph.D. The track itself was closed to outlaws like Nigel and the team, but neither that, nor the 90-degree heat index, kept at bay an insightful discussion on flexibility in drug development and, of course, a quick go `round the bend.

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Anticipating What’s Around the Bend | UPM Pharmaceuticals

UPM Pharmaceuticals is an independent, family-owned CDMO offering a full range of formulation development, cGMP manufacturing, analytical methods development and stability testing from its 450,000-square-foot facility in Bristol, Tennessee. The organization specializes in oral solid dose as well as semi-solid creams and ointments. As a family-owned CDMO, UPM has a unique competitive advantage that affords its leadership the ability to make decisions quickly, without first having to navigate the formalities that are often intrinsic to a corporate bureaucracy. This, says Jim, can dramatically help a client’s timeline.

“We are willing to take a lot more risk with certain client projects and make decisions dramatically faster than large public or corporate companies because we don’t have nearly the layers of subcommittees and bureaucracy that are typically involved,” said Jim. “We can often make decisions in days or hours, where it might take a larger company weeks or months.”

Ed reinforced the organization’s commitment to meeting the varying needs of its customers, leveraging its rich history in R&D to fully support customers in their development efforts.

“We were an R&D company for about a dozen years before we went commercial,” said Ed. “That history helps us to anticipate the needs of our clients and to identify gaps in their development plans that we can help with. This allows us to be very clear with our clients about what we can and can’t do from the beginning all the way through their development program.”

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The NASCAR track may have been closed, but the dragway next door was open, and the desire to speed around a circular course was satiated by a few donuts around the parking lot before hitting the strip. Born ready for the opportunity to test the limits of the Lamborghini’s V-12 engine, Nigel was full speed ahead before hitting an unfortunate roadblock. The track was being painted for an annual meeting the following weekend and yet another dream of Nigel’s was put on hold—surely just temporarily. Instead, the drone came out and some shots were taken of the rolling landscape that lined the streets of Bristol’s neighboring states.

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Sunday’s professional obligations with UPM were complete and the RV was full of diesel, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t time for one more fuel stop before leaving Bristol, this one for a well-deserving, slightly overheated crew. The team was led by UPM’s Mary Lee to J Frank, a Bristol staple serving what was unanimously hailed as the best prime rib anyone on the Road to BIO had experienced in their lifetime. Nigel enjoyed the experience so much, in fact, that rumor has it he planted a kiss right on his key lime tartlet.

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Fighting the urge to nap after a hearty midday meal, the crew made what in hindsight was probably not the best decision when they agreed to a farewell beverage at the local watering hole. A six-hour drive to South Carolina was next on the itinerary, but the temptation to relax and grab “just one more” was hard to resist. And so they did, on the way encountering a couple and their 10-year-old daughter whose dream it was, she seemed to decide then and there, to own a Lamborghini when she grew up.

“Not bad for 10 years old,” said Nigel.

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At the bar—a biker bar—a Kingsport, Tennessee couple in the early stages of their own road trip pulled up on their bright orange Harley Davidson. Parked opposite the Lamborghini sitting across the way, it was a beautiful bike and wonderful juxtaposition for the Road to BIO: the signature orange representing the agency behind the effort, and the futuristic silver showcasing all that would lie ahead on this journey and beyond.

Day four of the Road to BIO would be remembered with fondness by all as one of the most enjoyable of the entire journey. After a farewell cheers and goodbye embraces, the crew was back on the road, bound for South Carolina by way of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. It was at this point that Steve the reporter became Steve the bluegrass aficionado as he introduced those fortunate enough to be in the RV to “real American music in the region it evolved”—the Appalachian Mountains, where the Scots-Irish had brought their violins and folk music traditions after fleeing the British Isles for opportunity in the colonies. A brief insight into American history courtesy of Steve Kuehn.

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In the Lamborghini, Nigel was less impressed with the scenery lining the Appalachian trail than he had been driving through Virginia on the way to Tennessee.

“Driving through the Appalachian Mountains, this was a sleeper,” said Nigel. “Not, in my opinion, as impressive as driving through Virginia, but as Steve explained, ‘we took the boring route.’”

Crossing into Charleston, South Carolina at long last around 9:30 p.m., the hotel they were scheduled to stay at was on fire—or at least, it appeared to be. A fleet of fire engines was parked outside, and dozens of guests had spilled out into the parking lot, leading the crew to the premature assumption that they’d be sleeping in the RV that night.

“Apparently a light bulb or some such thing burst and set off a fire alarm,” reported Steve. “Any who, we all got there and then had Buffalo Wild Wings.”

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NEXT | Chapter 5: Chaahlston South Carolina