Five Questions For … Tom Luby, Head of JLabs @ TMC in Houston

Houston—The business of healthcare is in Tom Luby’s blood.

It started during a childhood often spent in a family room in the back of his parents’ pharmacy listening to them interact with patients and their caregivers. Those experiences led him to a biology degree at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh and a PhD in immunology at Tufts University in Boston.

“In college, I spent a lot of time in labs, both in biochemistry and chemistry, and I really found that it was a lot of fun,” he says.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Luby joined a series of biotech companies in Boston, including two—MGI Pharma and Zycos—that were acquired.

He spent four years with Johnson & Johnson as senior director of new ventures before he came to Houston in January to take over the leadership of JLabs at TMC, the pharmaceutical giant’s latest innovation skunkworks.

The Houston location of JLabs celebrated its first anniversary in March, and Luby says the center’s efforts are already making a mark. Among the successes in which JLabs played a role, he says, are exits like that of Adhesys Medical, a Rice University Business Plan Competition winner that was acquired by Germany-based Grunenthal Group in April.

JLabs houses selected companies and seeks to connect them with relevant mentors and partners within J&J and to J&J’s partners, alliances that could result in funding and, perhaps, an acquisition. And while not all JLabs companies will have that sort of outcome, Luby says the J&J network does have the “ability to get feedback to them and help them make strategic decisions on how they might take their company forward.”

In this week’s “Five Questions For … ,” Luby speaks further about life and his parents’ pharmacy, the hubris of the young, and how gender issues in the workplace hit close to home. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: What do you wish your 25-year-old self knew (or was told?)

Tom Luby: When I was 25, I wish that I had more humility and appreciation for the folks (and [their] effort) that had worked around me. When you’re younger, you’re trying to be recognized for your efforts. … I wish [I knew] then what I know now, [which] is, actually, if you’re more humble and work hard to make others successful around you, the group that you’re in is much more successful than if you’re acting as the hero-leader.

X: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

TL: Interestingly, I always knew that I was into medicine because I grew up in the back of a pharmacy. My parents met in pharmacy school, and they owned a small pharmacy together. They had to work crazy hours. We created a family room in the back of the pharmacy. I grew up in the conversations with doctors and pharmacists and thought about medicine.

When I got to high school, I wanted to be a high school biology teacher. Then when I was in college, the last thing I wanted to do was teach high school. So, I pivoted to spending more time in the … Next Page »

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