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Switzer, William

Published onOct 15, 2021
Switzer, William

(April 9, 1927 - July 16, 2021)

Quick Facts

William Switzer was a veterinarian, educator and researcher. He was awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor and made many contributions to research, such as swine disease especially respiratory diseases. 

William Switzer was born in Dodge City, Kansas. He earned his DVM in 1948 from Texas A&M University, before receiving master’s of science and a PhD from Iowa State College (now University) in 1951 and 1954. After obtaining his DVM, Switzer went briefly into private veterinary practice in Great Bend, Kansas, before joining the faculty of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State, a position he held for three years. After earning his master’s degree, Switzer joined the Iowa State faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine and the Veterinary Medical Research Institute on campus. He was promoted first to associate professor (1957) and then professor (1961) before he was named a Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor in Veterinary Medicine in 1977. In addition to his teaching, research and professional practice responsibilities in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Switzer also served as the associate dean of research before retiring in 1990 after 42 years on the faculty in Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

An international leader in swine respiratory disease research, Switzer identified the cause of mycoplasmal pneumonia and polyserositis-arthritis in swine. He was the first researcher to describe trichomonads in the nasal cavities of swine and also discovered a method for protecting swine breeding herds from outbreaks of turbinate atrophy. It was Switzer’s groundbreaking research on atrophic rhinitis of swine that led to the development of a Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterin. This was the first federally licensed vaccine to prevent atrophic rhinitis is swine, which save U.S. pork producers an estimated $60 million annually. The ISU Research Foundation obtained a patent on the product, licensing it to Burns-Biotech in 1977. This vaccine led to his 1979 induction as part of the second class of Iowa Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Switzer’s work in this area continued with a second patent on a modified live Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine two years later. This vaccine prevents kennel cough in dogs, a product that is still prescribed to dogs throughout the country. Royalties from Switzer’s patents have supported programs in the College of Veterinary Medicine over the years including the Biomedical Research Enhancement Grants Program. The two patents rank in the top five of all Iowa State patents generating royalty income for the ISU Research Foundation.

Switzer’s reputation as a researcher led him to other arenas, including serving as a consultant to Merck and Company Pharmaceuticals. He consulted with Merck on the development of Ivermectin, an anti-parasite medication first developed for animals but was later adapted for use in humans to treat a variety of diseases including river blindness.

A prolific writer, Switzer is the author or co-author of more than 100 articles, primarily on his research with swine and atrophic rhinitis, Mycoplasmal pneumonia and polyserositis-arthritis. Colleagues and publishers frequently requested Switzer’s knowledge in the writing of chapters in veterinary texts, including the influential Veterinary Bacteriology and Virology, Diseases of Swine, and Mycoplasmatales and the L-Phase of Bacteria.

During his career, Switzer was actively involved in many professional veterinary organizations. He was a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Swine Practitioners, Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases, and the International Organization of Mycoplasmologists. He served on the advisory committee for the International Pig Veterinary Society Congress. He was also a member of the United States-Japan Cooperative Program in Natural Resources Mycoplasmosis Panel.

Switzer has received numerous honors and awards for his professional accomplishments including an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Vienna in Austria (1979); the American Feed Manufacturer’s Association Veterinary Medical Research Award (1977); and the National Hog Farmer Award for Outstanding Service to the Pork Industry (1978). Other awards include the Gamma Sigma Delta International Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture (1981) and the Howard W. Dunne Memorial Award for Outstanding Service to the AASP and the Swine Industry (1981). He was named 1988’s Iowa Veterinary Medical Association Iowa Veterinarian of the Year.

The William P. Switzer Award was created in 1988 in his honor to annually recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to society and to the College of Veterinary Medicine.

In retirement, Switzer remained active as the chief science officer for Mitogenetics, LLC. He also served as president of Dental Vision Direct, Inc.

Switzer and his wife Irene Nettleton were married on August 4, 1951 and are the parents of three children.

Willliam Switzer, age 94, passed away on Friday, July 16, 2021.

Selected Sources

William P. Switzer papers, RS 14/3/51, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames

Obituary, Ames Tribune.

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