Pyxis Founder Ron Taylor Joins Connect Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

3/21/13Follow @bvbigelow

To the fictional emergency room staff on the Showtime TV series “Nurse Jackie,” the computerized drug dispenser is a source of mischief and dramatic suspense, often referred to as “the Pyxis” or “Pill-o-Matic,” and sometimes as “Not a candy machine!”

But to Ron Taylor, the Pyxis Medstation is a real-life San Diego success story.

In 1987, Taylor co-founded Pyxis with investor Tim Wollaeger. As Pyxis chairman and CEO, Taylor grew the medical technology startup into a public company with more than 1,500 employees. In 1996, Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH) acquired Pyxis in a corporate buyout that was just short of a $1 billion deal. In 2009, Cardinal included Pyxis in a business spinout that became CareFusion (NYSE: CFN), the San Diego-based medical device company with 15,000 employees and sales of $3.6 billion in fiscal 2012.

Ron Taylor

Today, Taylor took the stage at a luncheon in La Jolla to be officially inducted into San Diego’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed by Connect, the local nonprofit group that has supported technology and entrepreneurship in San Diego since 1985.

Wollaeger, who has been managing director of Sanderling Ventures in San Diego since 2002, said he provided startup funding for Pyxis with Hybritech CEO Howard “Ted” Greene after they sold Hybritech to Eli Lilly & Co. for $413 million in 1986. Wollaeger was Hybritech’s CFO, and Taylor had served as Hybritech’s vice president of operations since 1981.

The early years were not easy, and Pyxis initially struggled to raise capital from venture capital firms, Wolleager said. Many VCs rebuffed Taylor, saying that making computerized pill dispensers was a crazy idea.

“Pyxis was not successful for the first three years, from 1987 to 1990,” Wollaeger told the audience. “If it had been written off, nobody would have noticed. But Ron listened to the marketplace, and modified his strategy until it worked.”

So what was the thing that turned things around at Pyxis?

“I don’t think there was any sort of ‘Aha! This is it!” Taylor told the audience. “We really listened to the constituents who were our potential customers—the pharmacists and nurses.”

Taylor said he viewed the Pyxis Medstation as the healthcare industry equivalent of the automated teller machines that banks began introducing in the 1980s. At the time, Taylor added, nurses had been distributing medications to patients in hospitals in the same way for decades. “They had been doing it in a manual process for so long that they didn’t really realize that it was inefficient,” he said.

The Pyxis Medstation was originally conceived as an ATM for safely storing, dispensing, and tracking narcotics. The system proved to be so effective, however, that its use expanded to include dispensing all kinds of medications and hospital supplies. The Pyxis system modernized the medication management, streamlined workflow, reduced losses and manual errors, and transformed healthcare.

Taylor is the 11th inductee into the Connect Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. Past honorees include Qualcomm’s founding CEO Irwin Jacobs, SAIC founder J. Robert Beyster, former IDEC Pharmaceuticals CEO William Rastetter, and Hybritech CEO Ted Greene.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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