It’s a challenge keeping up with Robert P. Nickell ’81, BS Pharm. At 63, Nickell continues to pursue multiple entrepreneurial and pharmaceutical ventures and keeping straight his many efforts can be difficult.
His ongoing connection to the sporting world is about to revive one of his previous business endeavors: SportPharm. Scheduled for a relaunch in 2024, the privately owned company will create, manufacture and distribute prescription and over-the-counter medications for athletes and other patients.
SportPharm will join his existing companies – Enovachem Pharmaceuticals, Pharmco Inc. and Nubratori RX – operating in an industrial park in Torrance. Nickell currently manufactures over-the-counter items such as specialized injection kits; creates and produces 10 different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are sold to hospitals, doctors and pharmacies; operates a 50,000-square-foot campus staffed by 75 employees with experience in academia, finance, research, pharmaceuticals and regulatory affairs; and develops, produces and sell specialized medications, including topical creams, rubs, lotions and sprays designed to treat athletes, orthopedic and injured patients.
It’s all possible because Nickell is the only U.S. pharmacist to own and manage the top three state and Food and Drug Administration-licensed drug distribution services: a national FDA manufacturing license, national mail order 503A pharmacy compounding license and coveted FDA-registered 503B outsourcing facility license.
A serial entrepreneur, he began his career as a second-generation family pharmacist who first worked at B&B Pharmacy, his father’s Norwalk drugstore. He believes his work extends the business lessons he learned from his father – experiences that still color his every business transaction.
“I saw how my dad interacted with patients, doctors and the community,” Nickell said. “He took care of people, and he ran the business. The rewards of the business were the first thing that hooked me.
“I’m passionate about what I do,” he adds. “I have had a lot of bumps and bruises along the way; I’ve made mistakes and failed and fallen. But I don’t ever give up.”
SportsPharm began as a tracking, distribution and analytical system for athletic trainers.
“But as I built it, I ended up tracking medications both on- and off-season, each athlete’s injuries and treatments,” he recalls. “We were able to start doing audits with annual controls, and it kept growing.”
Nickell’s reputation led to word-of-mouth advertising among leaders in sports including the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA – virtually every professional sport.
Ultimately, he connected with the medical director for the U.S. 2002 Winter Olympics. After becoming the official sports pharmacist for the U.S. teams in those games, he served in the same capacity for the much larger 2004 Summer Olympics.
Some of that work involved setting up dispensaries, obtaining exceptions from the host country to import certain medications and ensuring athletes got the necessary treatment.
Nickell worked in the Olympics again in 2006. In 2008, he and his wife, Katy, headed to Beijing to be the first husband-and-wife Olympic pharmacist team. But when they learned they were expecting their first child, he decided to make some changes.
He sold the business when he was approached by a buyer who wanted to expand SportPharm internationally; it failed within two years. Still, he’s confident that SportPharm can again succeed.
“As a compounding pharmacist, I still have the formulations,” Nickell notes. “Now I can manufacture them in the lab and bring them to market. I’m chomping at the bit to get out there and start selling again.”
Nickell has been honored and has served many organizations. As a student, he was president of the Student Pharmacists Association and was an officer in the Phi Delta Chi pharmacy fraternity. A proud Pacific alumnus, he has served on the Dean’s Leadership Council, is a founder of the School’s Entrepreneurial Pharmacy Practice Program and serves on the program’s Board of Governors.
Nickell is a past president of the California Pharmacists Association and former honoree as Pharmacist of the Year and Innovator Pharmacist of the Year. He has taught pharmaceutical compounding at the University of Southern California for 10 years.
He also has served on the Entrepreneurs Organization board and is on the Foundation Board for the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding. Nickell serves on the editorial advisory board of the Sports Pharmacy Journal and is the only pharmacist who’s an honorary National Athletic Training Association member.
Nickell says his father’s lessons live on in his businesses, where loyal staff members are rewarded with competitive pay and a friendly environment. “I have sisters, mothers and daughters and grandkids of families all working for me,” he notes. “It’s still like a mom-and-pop family business.
“After all, I was raised in a corner drugstore.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second and final story about Robert P. Nickell ’81, BS Pharm and his career at the intersection of sports and pharmacy.