Pharmacist, engineer principals in company linked to meningitis outbreak
BOSTON — The pharmacy linked to the nation’s deadly outbreak of meningitis is owned by two brothers-in-law who brought different but complementary skills to the venture. One is a pharmacist, the other a risk-taking businessman who made his mark recycling old computers, fishing rope and mattresses.
The New England Compounding Center and its practices are under scrutiny as investigators try to determine how a steroid solution supplied by the pharmacy apparently became contaminated with a fungus.
The drug has sickened more than 180 people in 12 states, killing 14. Most of the patients had received spinal injections of the steroid for back pain.
NECC was founded in 1998 by Barry Cadden and Gregory Conigliaro as a compounding pharmacy, a laboratory that custom-mixes solutions, creams and other medicines in dosages and forms that often are unavailable from pharmaceutical companies.
Cadden, 45, who is married to Conigliaro’s sister, Lisa, had the medical know-how behind NECC, earning a pharmacy degree from the University of Rhode Island.
In a 2002 newsletter he wrote that compounding had rebounded, after falling off when pharmaceutical companies began manufacturing drugs in the 1950s and ‘60s, and could help patients with painful conditions that demand “novel approaches.”
Conigliaro, 46, is a Tufts University engineering grad and a member of the Air National Guard, from which he retired in 2007. He started Conigliaro Industries in 1991.
Conigliaro and his father, also an engineer, developed Boston’s Best Patch, a pothole-filling mix that included the plastic housing from discarded computers.
The company’s Plas Crete Wall Blocks combine cement, sand, water and recycled plastic. Conigliaro Industries also boasts that it figured out how to recycle up to 90 percent of a discarded mattress.
Conigliaro’s success at the recycling company was repeated at the compounding pharmacy, and in 2006 the partners started another pharmacy, Ameridose, which would eventually report annual revenue of $100 million, more than 10 times NECC’s.
Ameridose products haven’t been linked to any problems, but the pharmacy has ceased operations while state and federal authorities inspect it.
Cadden has surrendered his pharmacy license and resigned from Ameridose. Neither man responded to requests for comment; a company spokesman said they are focused on helping investigators in the meningitis outbreak.
NECC was licensed only to fill individual patients’ prescriptions, state officials said. Authorities said it may have been operating beyond its legal boundaries by shipping products for broad use around the country.