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GSK’s Jack Bailey: NCBiotech Roots Launch High Profile Career in Big Pharma

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jack Bailey, president of U.S. Pharmaceuticals for GlaxoSmithKline, took time out for this interview at the Biotech Center recently, as he concluded four years of service on the Center’s board of directors.

-- Photos courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline

Jack Bailey has had many important mentors and influences on his life, but he says a graduate school internship spent with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center played a pivotal role leading to his successful career as a global pharmaceutical company executive.

Born in the South, Bailey moved around the United States to various Air Force bases with his pilot father. His mother was a hospital intensive care nurse. Their disciplines fed their son’s development, including a desire to maintain excellence and a respect for science.

He did spend some of his formative years in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a small town about an hour-and-a-half north of Chicago, but mostly the family moved about every three years during his youth -- to Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Delaware and Alabama.

“I was always jealous of those folks who could say I grew up in this town, my parents were here, my grandparents, you feel like you’re part of a community. So when my parents moved to North Carolina in the early ‘80s, it was my first of three stints, if you want to say, to the state. It felt very much like home then. I’ve now spent the last nine years here, and hope to have a whole lot more.”

Appreciates having roots in the Triangle

He said that somewhat transitory upbringing made him hungry to engage in the Triangle community when he joined GSK in 2009, after a successful 18-year career with Eli Lilly in numerous locations, from Indianapolis to South Africa.

“So that’s why I’ve served on the board of the Biotech Center,” he said. He has also served on the boards of the North Carolina Healthcare Quality Alliance and the state’s Chamber of Commerce.

“These are institutions that play a critical role in the local and state community that I have a bias to be part of, because I didn’t have that chance growing up,” he said.

Bailey studied biology at Hobart College, in Geneva, N.Y. One of his professors arranged for him to do a research rotation at the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station. “It was great to get that experience,” Bailey recalled, “but it also convinced me I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab.”

He loved science, and graduated from college in 1986 “when the promise of biotechnology was just starting to be felt. They were literally talking about solving world hunger with the use of new technologies such as bioengineered pesticides, talking about eliminating diabetes -- it was a really exciting time for a scientist.”

Ah-ha! Not labs, not law, but the business of science

Despite his interest in science, the fact that he didn’t want to work in a lab put him on a different track. He went to Washington, D.C., and worked for a couple of years as a paralegal. “I thought maybe I’d be an intellectual property attorney for bioengineered products. But I found out that wasn’t what resonated with me, so I ended up saying, ‘Let me go to business school.’

“UNC’s was a smaller program then, maybe 200 students. They used a case/lecture mix, a team orientation. So I packed up my car -- everything I owned fit into my little VW in 1989 -- and had two magic years at Kenan-Flagler.”

The spring ending his first year he went to the bulletin board looking for a summer internship.

“The Biotechnology Center had a posting for summer interns helping with some research stuff. I thought this was intriguing, so I worked at the Center that summer, and then I was asked to stay on the whole following year.

“I had a chance to research some financing mechanisms for this emerging thing called the biotechnology industry. It was just a wonderful experience, working for Dr. Mark Dibner and Dr. Charles Hamner. Dr. Hamner exuded this amazing presence. As a first-year grad student I found that very appealing, plus I had the opportunity to dive into really good, rich, business-related issues around the life sciences. To me it just hit all the marks. I even had a chance to get published, both as a first author and as a second author. For me that really kindled this realization that there is a career in the business of science.”

That was his experience at a very personal level, he said.

“At a broader level, I can remember that year they brought Vice President Dan Quayle down to visit the Biotech Center.  As the first biotechnology center in the country, we had a knowledge epicenter, and others wanted to understand the Center’s unique vision for how to grow this industry.”

“So here we had the vice president of the United States coming down because the government was essentially in the process of developing national regulations, and they were building it off the knowledge that was captured and developed here at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. I saw the leadership role the Center and the state played as this biotechnology was starting to come to the fore. Obviously the federal government was looking to make sure it had its priorities together. For me it was a very powerful experience.”

After completing graduate school, Bailey applied to just two companies -- Merck and Lilly, primarily because they both had great reputations for deep science and good management training programs.

Work with Lilly became an 18-year adventure

“I joined Lilly right out of grad school. I liked that they were known for their science, and also had a deep community focus. And what I thought was going to be maybe 10 years there developing my management skills turned out to be 18-plus.”

He was running a significant portion of Lilly’s U.S. operations when the call came from GSK. “GSK had an unprecedented bolus of 10 products to get through the FDA in a relatively short period of time. Their leadership was really looking to change the model for a pharma company. I wanted to be a part of that.”

So, in 2009, Bailey made his third foray back to North Carolina.

Looking back, Bailey said, besides the pivotal time he spent with the Biotech Center as a grad student and, more recently, as a key board member, the nearly three years he spent with Lilly in South Africa were also a life-changing experience for him.

Seared into his memory was the day he and his wife Robin, then six weeks pregnant, were riding in a car that stopped at a red light in Johannesburg. Suddenly the car was surrounded by seven or eight children who started knocking on the car window. Bailey asked the driver what the kids were doing, and the driver said these were HIV orphans.

“Those three years down there were really sobering to me,” said Bailey. There was a monoclonal antibody available for treating HIV, but it cost $4,000 – far more than most African people could afford. And drug-resistant tuberculosis was also a big issue there.

“It’s important to have science that changes lives,” he said, “but it needs to get to the patient.”

Innovative new medicines, ensuring access to healthcare, and operating with the highest integrity in a rapidly changing industry – a lot of big issues cover Jack Bailey’s plate these days.

And it all started with a young MBA student interning at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, where Jack Bailey chose to make better health his life’s work.

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Great article!

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