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Agnes Varis

by Susan J. Ainsworth
September 5, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 36

Agnes Varis, 81, the founder, owner, and chief executive officer of Agvar Chemicals, died of cancer on July 29.

Varis, who founded the company 41 years ago to supply U.S. drug firms with generic bulk pharmaceuticals manufactured in Europe and elsewhere, is widely recognized as a pioneer in the development of the generic drug industry. She helped draft the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, a bill designed to promote the marketing of generic drugs, as well as the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act, a later bill intended to close loopholes in Hatch-Waxman.

A philanthropist who supported the arts, especially jazz and opera, in New York City, Varis was also an ardent Democrat who hosted a salon in her New York City apartment attended by key lawmakers including former Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

With bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and English from Brooklyn College in New York City, Varis first went to work at Fine Organics, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer. In the 20 years before she left to found Agvar, she rose from bench chemist to the posts of executive vice president, general manager, and member of the board of directors.

Agvar has been involved with two joint ventures brokered by Varis: Aegis Pharmaceuticals, formed with Hungary’s Egis Pharmaceuticals; and Modavar, formed with India’s Cadila Pharmaceuticals.

Varis, whose husband, Karl Leichtman, died in 2009 and who has no known immediate survivors, will be remembered for her generosity and hospitality, be it her support for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Greek pastries and coffee she served to guests at her office, or the signed copies of Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” that she gave to drug executives one year at an annual industry banquet.

In a 2005 interview with C&EN, Varis said one of her abiding passions was mentoring aspiring businesswomen.



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