Eric Tomlinson: Supporting Brilliant Minds
When our new chief innovation officer and president of Piedmont Triad Research Park first saw how Wake Forest Biotech Place was transformed from two former tobacco warehouses into a state-of-the-art biotechnology research and innovation center, he was inspired.
“I thought, wow, if that is what we can do with a building, think what we are capable of accomplishing by supporting the brilliant minds in this organization,” said Eric Tomlinson, DSc, PhD.
Tomlinson is guiding the future development of our research park as it becomes a place where innovative people can work, live and relax. But he is also embarking on a mission that goes far beyond building facilities, recruiting tenants and commercializing discoveries. His goal is to create an environment that nurtures innovation.
Array of Expertise
As chief innovation officer, Tomlinson is leading the commercialization of research discoveries and innovative products and services. This requires an array of expertise—scientific, business, financial and legal. He is building on our organization’s existing strengths and bringing his own experience in all those areas: academic science, founding and selling pharmaceutical businesses, raising venture capital, and consulting on public policy and economic development.
“I had no idea earlier in my career that there would be an opportunity where all those elements would be brought together,” Tomlinson said. “I’m using all of that experience here now.”
Tomlinson was born in a small town outside Liverpool, England, and raised in a working class family with no car or television. He was the first in his family to go on to higher education.
“I’ve always been driven by scientific curiosity,” he said. “As a boy, I remember walking into a local pharmacy in my neighborhood, seeing the pharmacist wearing a crisp, white coat and imagining myself in a job like that. When it came time to look for a career, I thought of pharmacy.”
At the University of London, he earned a bachelor of pharmacy degree in 1968, completed a doctorate in drug design in 1971, and a doctor of science degree in 1988. Between 1975 and 2001, he held academic appointments at four European universities and was a visiting Fulbright-Hays scholar at Ohio State University. He authored or coauthored 230 research publications and co-founded the journal Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews.
In 1984, Tomlinson joined Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals in Horsham, U.K., as worldwide head of advanced drug delivery research. There he created strategic plans, recruited staff and developed site-specific drug delivery products.
“I was afforded the opportunity to build a major research institute within Ciba-Geigy at a time when my science was blossoming,” he said. “It also gave me insight into corporate life, which I’d never even thought about previously.”
In 1990, he became CEO and president of Somatix Corporation in Cambridge, Mass., and led the private company’s merger with Hana Biologics in 1991, creating the first publicly traded gene therapy company. From 1992 to 1999, Tomlinson was CEO and president of GeneMedicine, Inc. in Woodlands, Texas, and held the same position at Altea Therapeutics Corporation in Atlanta from 2002 to 2011. During this period, he raised more than $160 million in private and public equity, oversaw development of numerous therapeutic products, led a merger of one company and sale of the other, and served on national and state biotechnology advisory boards.
Since his appointment in July 2012, Tomlinson has met with faculty and staff across the Medical Center as well as local business owners and community members to assess opportunities and needs. One of his top priorities is finding ways to support researchers and clinicians as they pursue innovative work.
“We want to focus on the crucial step of showing that an innovation actually works and holds value for patients,” Tomlinson said. “That involves proof of concept, prototyping and understanding the business case for a specific technology, which is where we use our professional and technical skills to engage investigators.”
Just as economic and regulatory forces are driving change throughout the Medical Center, commercializing rapidly emerging discoveries in the life sciences will require new approaches.
“Creating an environment that enables us to monetize intellectual capital and research assets requires a high degree of intrapreneurial behavior,” Tomlinson said. “That means doing things differently not only internally but also externally by engaging business in different ways.”
Tomlinson said his team’s role boils down to a simple bottom line: “We are here to support our Medical Center’s faculty and staff in being brilliant.”