Business Person of the Month: Donald G. Luther Jr.

  Donald Luther


Donald G. Luther Jr.
Director:  University Products LLC



Besides working as the Director of the family business University Products, LLC, Donald Luther is an entrepreneur who has been involved in many business ventures in such diverse fields as Construction, Food Service, Maintenance, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Rehabilitation, Finance, Real Estate, and Education. “I work as long and as hard as it takes to accomplish the needs of any and every business in which I’m involved. Some days work takes very little of my time, while other days, I may not get to sleep at all. I’ve had failures as well as successes; however I never fail to try!” Luther cites his enjoyment of the ever changing work experience at University Products, which currently manufactures a vaccine for cattle. “This business has given me the chance to work with people from all walks of life, from farmers and field hands to scientists and politicians.”

Luther was born in Plaquemine, where his father had a veterinary practice. But when the Vet School opened, his father went to work for LSU. His mother, a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, also worked in Baton Rouge. With both parents working here, it made sense for the kids to commute for their schooling, too. He and his siblings attended St. James Episcopal Day School. After the family moved to Baton Rouge in 1979, they enrolled in public school. Luther attended Kenilworth Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School before going to Louisiana State University. “I dropped out of LSU, because I did not take education seriously in my first two years at the University. I preferred to drink and chase Stacey Harrison.” He refers to Stacey, whom he married in 1984, as “the love of my life.” They have one daughter, Brandy Nicole. “I quit drinking almost 23 years ago and started working to support my new family.”

“I am the only member of my family who does not have a college degree.” Many in his family have multiple degrees. His father earned a Doctorate in Microbiology while he was working at the Vet School, and his wife is currently working on a Master’s in Library Science. Luther does not want anyone to take his success as a sign that education is not important. “I feel that I am the exception, not the rule. I would like to correct the mistake I made as a young man and complete my college education and I encourage others to do the same.” He did not stop learning when he left college though; over the years he has attended seminars and other educational programs to expand his knowledge in his various fields of interest. Lately he’s started taking courses at Baton Rouge Community College with an eye toward getting that degree he passed up in his youth.

The Luther Family formed, University Products L.L.C., in 1999. All family members have shares in the company, though he and his younger brother are the ones actively working alongside their dad at this time. (Several of Luther’s other business ventures also include family members.) An active Pharmaceutical Manufacturer, the company is involved in the production of Anaplasmosis Vaccine, as well as the development of other products, including a novel vaccine for H5N1 (bird flu) and other potential pandemic influenza strains. The company licensed a specific technology from Louisiana State University that is used to make Bovine Anaplasmosis Vaccine. This vaccine was developed at the LSU Agriculture Center’s Veterinary Science Department by a team of three scientists–L.T. Hart, Ph.D., W.J. Todd, Ph.D., and D. G. Luther, D.V.M., Ph.D. Their research, done in the late ’80s and early ’90s, led to a patent for the process of separating the Anaplasma marginal initial bodies from the red blood cell antigens of bovine blood.

Donald Luther Family Photo
Board of Directors (Circa 1974) from the website Donald Luther, Jr. is the red jacketed boy standing by his mother. Asked why he is the jr. rather than his older bother, he said the first son got a name of even greater honor, that of their grandfather.

Anaplasmosis, a disease affecting both beef and dairy cattle, is more prevalent during the summer months in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. The disease is spread by insects and from cow to cow by the transfer of infected blood. The blood parasite invades and destroys red blood cells causing the animal to develop severe anemia or a low red blood cell count. Calves usually survive the infection and develop immunity, but adult cattle can die from it. “While Anaplasmosis can decimate a herd, so can many other diseases, weather conditions, predators, and even financial ups and downs,” says Luther. “Farmers have many costs involved in bringing their products to market, and theirs is not a ‘cost plus’ market. They have to take what the market offers for their product, which all too often is not that much and sometimes even a loss. Vaccination for Anaplasmosis is just one of many choices for our farmers to make.” Infected animals can be treated with the antibiotic Tetracycline, but usually by the time a farmer notices the clinical signs of the disease it is too late to administer the antibiotic without causing great stress to the animal.

Louisiana State University licensed the vaccine to Pitman-Moore which started the USDA licensing process. While the USDA efficacy and safety studies were ongoing, Mallinckrodt bought Pitman-Moore and marketed the vaccine for three years under the name, Plazvax, before being acquired by Schering-Plough. Plough, sued by users of an earlier Anaplasmosis vaccine which sometimes caused cows to abort their calves, declined to use this new technology to produce a vaccine. Schering-Plough’s decision not to produce and market Plazvax resulted in no commercially available vaccine for Anaplasmosis. “Currently, public and private organizations around the world are attempting to build a better mouse trap, as relates to the treatment and eradication of Anaplasmosis.”

In 1999 Luther’s father was contacted by dairymen in Florida about the defunct vaccine. Dr. Luther told them he could make it, but the USDA would not allow him to ship or sell the vaccine. Obviously these gentlemen had some clout; they appealed to the USDA and got approval for production and sale of the vaccine as an Experimental Anaplasmosis Vaccine to veterinarians in Florida. Around the same time, Louisiana cattle owners urged our Department of Agriculture and Forestry to have a vaccine made available to control outbreaks in several south Louisiana parishes, and the State Veterinarian, Dr. Maxwell Lea, contacted USDA officials. The USDA has since approved the use of the vaccine in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Oregon, Nevada, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Puerto Rico, but they are not approving any more states at this time.

The vaccine is not licensed by the USDA partly because there are no USDA licensed facilities in Louisiana. University Products would like to obtain this licensing and move to full scale commercial production of this important agricultural pharmaceutical. “We are currently approved by the USDA to make the vaccine for Experimental Use only. We are in the process of getting full USDA approval; however, it is an expensive and time consuming process to get both the lab and the product approved.” The Experimental Vaccine employs the same purification procedure as did Mallinckrodt’s Plazvax and uses the same strain of Anaplasma marginal. Though the USDA has not carried out efficacy or potency tests on this experimental vaccine, hundreds of thousands of doses have been produced since early in 2000. Unlike other vaccines for anaplasmosis, this vaccine has been used in cows in all stages of pregnancy with no ill effects. “To this point the only complaint we’ve had was the thickness of the first vaccine made it hard to use. That first vaccine was mixed in an omni blender, which made it very thick. We have since homogenized the vaccine as did Mallinckrodt; it is now about the thickness of milk.”

As a native Louisianan, Luther is a big proponent of our state as well as the city of Baton Rouge. “When I was a little boy, my ‘Granny Wiggins’ told me I was the reason God made Louisiana; with this in mind I believe Louisiana is the greatest place on Earth and it is only getting better!” He believes Baton Rouge has been behind the curve in our infrastructure, and Katrina related growth only exacerbated our existing problems (traffic, sewerage, crime, education, etc…). “Baton Rouge is like business; if it is not growing it is dying. My passion for politics comes from my desire to see that we have the best leaders to deal with all of our issues while we continue to grow.”

Luther’s spare time is spent with family and friends. His favorite type of reading includes topics like politics, science, gadgets, and Louisiana history. Currently he’s reading “Managing Ignatius” by Jerry E. Strahan and “The Day Huey Long Was Shot” by David Zinman. He believes libraries are one of the most important assets of any society “Our public libraries offer a seemingly limitless opportunity for anyone and everyone to freely explore ideas and educate themselves.”

His personal philosophy is summed up by the Golden Rule; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In this spirit he volunteers time to several local organizations and causes. “I want to protect the weak and the vulnerable, to give a helping hand, and then educate the poor to help them to help themselves.” His causes are related to education, the sick, the old, the young, the hungry, and the poor (The Food Bank, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, St. Jude, Sam’s Helping Hands, etc…) Like many people who give to society he finds that he often receives more than he gives. “I donate time, money and resources to my causes for completely selfish reasons, and I do not expect, nor do I want, any public recognition for doing so.”

Logo for Hot Diggity DogsA dynamic man with a host of ideas and interests, Luther has irons in many fires. “While I have had many failures in my life, my successes are what keep me going. I work hard at not making the same mistake twice.” His newest venture, Diggitty Dogs, is a hot dog and Coca-Cola shaped itinerate vending cart that serves gourmet hot dogs, sausage poboys, Frito pies (made to order before your eyes) along with chips and cold Coca-Cola. “While Diggitty Dogs is in its infancy, it appears to be a hit. I hope to keep it simple. A fresh bun for bread, a tube of meat and all the condiments you can eat! Who doesn’t love a hot dog? My partner Albert E. Tolle III, AKA “The Hot Dog Man”, and I feel that we are well on our way to weenie wealth.” Whether dealing with cutting edge science in search of cures for man and beast or pursuing ‘weenie wealth’ Donald J. Luther, Jr. puts his heart into every project.

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