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Tufts E-News --Behind Every Successful Woman Is Herself

Tufts E-News --Behind Every Successful Woman Is HerselfA pioneer for affordable medicine in America, Tufts overseer and honorary degree recipient Agnes Varis is a political powerhouse with an activist agenda. New York City.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.21.03] The New York Times opened its lengthy profile of Agnes Varis by describing her favorite conversation piece - a throw pillow bearing the words "Behind Every Great Woman Is Herself." In many ways, the phrase captures the essence of the Tufts overseer - who has worked tirelessly to reform the pharmaceutical industry - as both a leading businesswoman and a passionate activist.

The founder and president of Agvar Chemicals, Varis - who serves as an overseer for Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine - is a leader in the generic drug industry and a powerhouse within the Democratic Party.

"This one-woman lobby says she is committed to making medicine more affordable for Americans," reported the Times. "Her battle to expand supplies of lower-priced generic drugs often pits her against the brand-name industry which has spent $650 million and hired nearly 700 Washington lobbyists for its notoriously powerful political campaign. Varis is unarguably outgunned, but she is uncompromising - and effective."

Leading Democrats - including Senator Hilary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) - cite Varis' honesty and passion as keys to her success.

"She is so effective because she is genuine," Schumer told the Times.

For more than two years, Varis worked with Schumer to craft legislation to increase the flow of affordable drugs, despite major opposition from many of the country's top drug companies.

"Without her, I can unequivocally say there wouldn't be a generic drug bill," Schumer told the Times.

That persistent approach and vision for reform have helped Varis emerge as a leader among her professional peers.

"She is very insistent that what is good for consumers is good for generics," William Fletcher - the president and chief executive of Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world's largest generic drug company - told the Times. "Agnes is a conscience to many of us."

It's an important - but sometimes lonely - position.

"Sometimes, it's just me and PhRMA out there," she told the Times. "I am the only one who will do it."

But she hasn't limited her focus to reforming the pharmaceutical industry alone.

Last week, officials at Tufts' Veterinary School announced that Varis invested $5 million in the school - the largest gift its 25-year history - to help expand its groundbreaking research in biomedical sciences.

"Agnes Varis has once again stepped forward to help the University and the Veterinary School," said President Lawrence S. Bacow. "With her support, we will now be able to integrate research in comparative biomedical sciences across all of our schools."

Portions of her investment also will be used to strengthen existing graduate programs and create new ones -- including fellowships for veterinary students interested in public health issues, scholarships to enable students to conduct research during the summer and a new program through which Tufts will develop doctoral research training in comparative biomedical sciences.

Varis has also backed programs that provide everything from leadership training to free prescription drugs.

"Her name graces a New York election institute that trains Democratic women to run for public office as well as an endowed professorship and a lecture hall at Tufts University. Nearly a thousand unemployed service workers who lost their health insurance in the aftermath of Sept. 11 have ‘Agvar Generic Drug Plan' cards in their wallets - good for a year of free generic drug prescriptions," reported the Times.

Varis says she'd also like the Democratic Party to undergo some reform as well.

"Put 10 Democrats in a room and you end up with 15 political parties," Varis - who voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 Presidential Elections - told the Times. "...I'm not happy about the Democrats right now. Who is? They are becoming mild Republicans, wannabes."

They may disagree, but many of the Party's leaders are likely to listen to Varis' opinions.

"Her fierce political loyalties, tell-it-like-it-is style and willingness to put big money where her mouth is has earned Varis influence and respect, though sometimes it forces her to break with her allies," reported the Times. "And her roles as a drug executive, a Democrat and a gadfly are not always easy to reconcile."

But that doesn't appear to concern the Tufts overseer, who received an honorary doctorate in public service from Tufts in 2003.

"I'm an iconoclast," she told the newspaper. "If I'm going to worry about losing business, I might as well stay home and take care of the cats."

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