Harry Eisenberg, 96, Willen Drug founder

July 15, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harry Eisenberg, a former Johns Hopkins research technician who founded the Willen Drug Co. to produce pharmaceuticals developed in hospital work, died of a neurological infection July 8 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 96.

Mr. Eisenberg was born and raised in an East Baltimore rowhouse, the son of Lithuanian immigrants.

After graduating from City College in 1926, he worked briefly as a drugstore soda jerk before going to work the next year in the metabolic laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he first studied under Dr. George Thorne and later the noted Dr. John Eager Howard.

Dr. Howard, a leader in endocrinology research, developed drug treatments that prevented the formation of some types of kidney stones.

Mr. Eisenberg, who later became head of the metabolic laboratory at John Hopkins, aided Dr. Howard in his research and development of such drugs as Bicitra, Polycitra, Polycitra K and Neutra-Phos Bicitra.

"Polycitra and Polycitra K are used for the treatment of uric acid, cystine and mixed calcium-uric acid stones. Neutra-Phos is an over-the-counter product used for treatment of calcium kidney stones," said Mr. Eisenberg's son-in-law, Philip Willen of Pikesville.

"He was the lead technician for Dr. Howard and pioneered these drugs that were developed to treat children and adults. We still use them today, and there's nothing better," said Dr. Michael A. Levine, physician-in-chief of Children's Hospital at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and former head of pediatric endocrinology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In 1957, Mr. Eisenberg established Willen Drug Co. in a three-story brick building at High and Fayette streets, near the Shot Tower, to commercially produce the drugs. But while operating the business, he continued working at Hopkins until retiring from there in 1984.

He was joined in the business by his brother, pharmacist Louis Eisenberg, who became its vice president, and later by a grandson, Barry H. Willen.

"The reason he chose Willen for the company's name was because it was easy to pronounce," said Louis Eisenberg, now 90 and a resident of Pikesville.

"They commercialized these drugs and made them available not only in Baltimore but around the world. What he did was a tremendous service," Dr. Levine said. "Harry, who had been at Hopkins at the dawn of endocrinology, was one of the brightest and most competent individuals I have had the pleasure to work with."

"He expected perfection and taught you how to do achieve it," Barry Willen said of his grandfather. "He was as enthusiastic about the operation of the company as a kid is about baseball. He was a very friendly man who would do anything for anybody."

The company was sold in 1992 to Ivax Corp. of Miami, Fla., and Mr. Eisenberg retired.

In addition to consulting work for several pharmaceutical companies, he also was a founder of Fairfax Savings & Loan Association - now Fairfax Savings Bank.

He was a member of Beth El Synagogue, and the Save-A-Heart Foundation.

Mr. Eisenberg's wife of 56 years, the former Jean Moses, died in 1985.

Services were held Sunday.

In addition to his brother and grandson, Mr. Eisenberg is survived by a son, Melvin Eisenberg of Dix Hills, N.Y.; a daughter, Beverly Eisenberg Willen of Pikesville; three other grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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