BioCrossroads’ annual award recognizes Eason’s Innovative spirit and dedication to Indianapolis.
BioCrossroads awarded Willard “Bill” Eason, the late founder of Roche Diagnostics predecessor company Bio-Dynamics, the August M. Watanabe Life Sciences Champion of the Year Award, a prestigious honor named in tribute to BioCrossroads’ late first Chairman. Bio-Dynamics flourished on Hague Road in Indianapolis in the 1960s following Eason’s invention of a point of care blood glucose monitor. The company was purchased by Boehringer Mannheim, and later acquired to become Roche Diagnostics’ North American headquarters.
BioCrossroads presents the Watanabe Award annually to an individual or organization that has made or enabled unique achievements in the development and promotion of Indiana's life sciences research, educational or economic advancement.
A graduate of Butler University, Eason was a chemical engineer for Ford Motor Company when he left to start creating diagnostic equipment in his Indianapolis garage. His tinkering led him to found Bio-Dynamics and create the Unimeter, the first diagnostics equipment of its kind. The first Unimeter tested blood glucose levels at the point of care instead of having blood sent to a laboratory, improving patient health and saving time and money.
“As a chemical engineer, he would get frustrated when it would take a week, ten days or a month to get blood work back,” Donna Dowd, Bill Eason’s daughter recalled, “I think that’s where the idea all started. He wanted to develop a test that would make getting this information more efficient. From this idea, came the Unimeter, which could run a blood test in three minutes in a doctor’s office. He loved science, and he always knew there was something new to be discovered.”
The Unimeter grew into what is now known worldwide as the Accu-Chek brand and shaped diabetes care as it is practiced today. In addition, the Unimeter played a role in the development of many other diagnostic tests now performed in doctors’ offices. Eason’s innovative spirit and passion for improving patient care has improved the lives of millions of people.
“Bill’s impact is immeasurable - from the growth going on at Roche Diagnostics to Indianapolis’ vibrant sports community to his diagnostic innovations,” said Jack Phillips, president and CEO, Roche Diagnostics. “His contributions have influenced our employees, Central Indiana and patients all over the world, and I’m thrilled that BioCrossroads and the life sciences community are recognizing such an incredible person.”
Eason was an entrepreneurial leader and grew Bio-Dynamics faster than any other company of its time over the course of ten years. He also made a lasting impact on his employees – known as a fair yet demanding leader. He was a risk-taker and thought “outside the box” – a signature component of Roche’s culture even today.
Eason also worked to support the growth of Indianapolis in many other ways. He owned the Indiana Pacers when the team was a part of the American Basketball Association and tirelessly worked with a group of stakeholders to keep the Pacers in Indiana, when it appeared that the Pacers might be lured to California in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eason invested a lot into the Pacers in part because of his belief that talent would not be drawn to the state without major league entertainment. In addition, the restlessly entrepreneurial Eason owned a farm in Brown County where he experimented with innovative agricultural strategies, and even explored for oil throughout the state.
“Bill is another example of larger-than-life Hoosier entrepreneurs like Bill Cook and Dane Miller who have made a lasting impact on the life sciences industry, as well as our state, through the sheer force of their talent, personality and persistence,” said David L. Johnson, president and CEO of BioCrossroads.
Eason joins award winners: Leonard Betley, chairman, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and chairman of the Regenstrief Foundation and Walther Cancer Foundation (2008); Richard DiMarchi, Ph.D., Standiford H. Cox Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Linda & Jack Gill Chair in Biomolecular Sciences, Indiana University, and founder of Marcadia Biotech (2009); Dane A. Miller, Ph.D., founder and former chief executive officer of Biomet (2010); Bill Cook, founder of Cook Group (2011); the Lilly Endowment under the leadership of the late Chairman Thomas Lofton (2012); Phillip Low, Ph.D., Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Purdue Center for Drug Discovery, and founder of Endocyte (2013); and John Lechleiter, Ph.D., Chairman, President, and CEO of Eli Lily and Company and (2014).
View the full BioCrossroads story here.