Ask Dr. Travis Mickle and he’ll tell you straight up … there are no easy A’s at Simpson. At least, there weren’t in the time he spent on campus as a chemistry major. That, more than anything, is what he remembers about the college’s academic setting. But within that rigor, for him, there was a certain magic. It was the way he was forced to stretch himself beyond his major and into areas to which he hadn’t always been drawn—music, philosophy, foreign languages, literature.
“The challenge that still sticks out in my mind was going from organic lab to an English comp course and having to basically switch brains and my train of thought multiple times a day,” Mickle said. “By challenging me early on in my college career, I realized that I could do and be anything if I just set my mind to it.”
And he knew that at the heart of what he truly wanted to do in life, was research. It was during junior year with Dr. Ron Warnett that he became introduced to the profound impact that research could have on the world around him. Mickle also participated in independent research both in a lab setting and during May term, both activities which he says provided an ideal foundation for his work in graduate school and his career.
Mickle’s time at Simpson helped set the stage for his advanced studies — he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa — as well as his entry into the professional world at New River Pharmaceuticals in Blacksburg, Va. In just a few short years there, he worked his way up to director of drug discovery and chemical development, and was the principal inventor of the drug Vyvanse, which is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In 2006, Mickle returned to Iowa and launched his own pharmaceutical research and development company, KemPharm, Inc., which has since grown to include 13 employees and is focused on developing safer versions of drugs used to treat ADHD, pain and central nervous system disorders. “Our primary focus is taking drugs that are already on the market, but have serious side effects or abuse problems, and we work to modify them in a way to mitigate or alleviate some or all of those problems,” he explained.
“I’ve always felt that if people have to take medicine, I want to make it as safe for the patient as possible and also make it hard for those who are trying to abuse it, to do so,” Mickle said. “Especially in an area like ADHD that is primarily focused on pediatrics — children should be exposed to as little side effects as possible while still being able to take something to control their disorder.”
And to this day, Mickle attributes much of his success to what he learned as an undergraduate at Simpson. “The skills that I learned both in the lab and at Simpson have been invaluable in allowing me to achieve my goals as a business leader and continue to push myself and KemPharm toward the goals we hope to achieve in the near future.”