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Alumni Dispatches

Conrad J. Heilman

PhD, ’82

Bringing products to market and protecting our workforce
conrad heilman The deadly threat of H1N1 flu has given an urgency and added meaningfulness to the kind of work to which I have always been attracted: helping address unmet medical needs.  As the president and CEO of Tunnell Consulting, a 47-year-old firm that works with life sciences companies and with the government, I have watched with awe the dedication of our people and of our clients as they work to get out ahead of the crisis.

My education and early work experience were initially focused on academic research, but I quickly developed an interest in bringing products to market. I entered the vaccine business, where I learned how to develop a product that was studied thoroughly, using a number of preclinical models, where scientific data warranted advancement to human clinical trial, where its safety and efficacy are determined. 

The ability to recognize when you have identified a research product with a practical application that will address an unmet medical need is a real skill. More importantly, having a hand in such applications is gratifying because it contributes to the well-being of patients. So I went on to work in diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and then the biotech business, combining my scientific interest with an entrepreneurial bent.

Today, my firm focuses on helping pharmaceuticals, biologics, biotechnology, diagnostics, and medical devices clients achieve better compliance and quality performance, operational excellence, and organizational effectiveness. It’s deeply satisfying to manage a science-based organization that focuses on helping clients make major improvements in operations and efficiency, advance new products and facilities quickly, and see new products launched that address important medical needs.

But the nature of our work has confronted us with a public health consideration for our firm. Because we assist clients at their sites, our firm’s people travel a great deal. We often find oursevles in airplanes and airports and other places with high concentrations of people and the potential for exposure to infectious agents, including H1N1. We have therefore adopted the U.S. government’s “Guidance for Businesses and Employers for the Fall Flu Season.”

But we believe that our obligation to help protect our workforce and their families goes further, especially since our workforce does not fall within the populations the CDC recommends receive the vaccine first. In fact, we do not know when the vaccine might be available to our employees. So we have taken measures to ensure the supply of antiviral drugs—Tamiflu and Relenza—to our employees and their immediate families to help minimize the impact of drug-sensitive influenza infection. In addition, we have made the seasonal flu vaccine available to our employees. Because we believe it is the right thing to do, the firm is absorbing the cost of these programs.

Organizations of all kinds are making Herculean efforts in vaccine development, massive production scale-up, and coast-to-coast distribution. As those potentially life-saving vaccines move toward us, our own organizations must do whatever they can to help contain and mitigate the crisis.

Conrad Heilman is president and CEO of Tunnell Consulting, Inc., a consulting firm focused on strategic, operational and technical solutions for the life sciences industry. His experience prior to joining Tunnell includes roles at American Cyanamid, Lederle Laboratories; the DuPont Company, the DuPont Merck joint venture, Pro-Virus, Inc., a biotech; and ViroMed Laboratories, focused on biosafety.

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