November Man of the Month - Patrick F. Terry


Disruptive Women in Health Care
NOVEMBER 6, 2009

This month, Disruptive Women welcomes Patrick F. Terry,
a self-proclaimed “JAD” (Just A Dad), as our Man of the Month


Q: So, where should we start? You have been involved with founding a number of ground breaking biotechnology companies, life science research foundations, trade associations, philanthropic groups, and a whole host of public policy organizations.

A: I enjoy thinking ahead and trying to do the next new thing to advance science, biomedical research, and the business of patient-centered health care. I´m very impatient for change. I consider myself an unrepentant insurgent, renegade, and rabble rouser. I think that is the most powerful disruptive technology there is. That's why I love the Disruptive Women in Health Care Blog.

But honestly, everything I do is in a lame attempt to keep up with my wife, Sharon F. Terry. She is one of the Disruptive Women Authors and a force of nature like the others here.

I have been burdened with the ability to visualize the dynamics of highly complex systems (like the health care enterprise) and make sense out of navigating or reorganizing aspects of the system to create new efficiencies. U.S. health care is the most inefficient and expensive system ever conceived of and implemented in the history of the planet. It is a wonderfully disturbing playground for a person like me. So, as a coping mechanism I have to create new organizations and social systems to help drive change and innovation.

I have been lucky to be associated with some really brilliant and creative people. For example, the great group who I worked with to start Genomic Health [NASDAQ: GHDX] and apply innovative clinical genomics to successfully change the standard of care for breast cancer in record time. I learned a ton from all the talented people there and from that commercial experience. It made me audacious about what was possible in the new era of optimized precision medicine, personalized medicine, technological innovation, and new approaches to health care delivery.


Q: So, why are you doing all these different things?

A: My kids made me do it! No, really they are the reason I do what I do today. A little over a decade ago, my two children were both diagnosed with a rare genetic disease a few days before Christmas. My wife and I were blown away. The diagnosis was traumatic. In hind sight, it was a seminal, life altering event. It had a profound effect on me as a man, a father, and a husband. At the time, I considered myself a failure at each. What could I do for my kids now? As a young Dad, I completely bought into the archetypal role of supporting, protecting and providing for my family. It was all I thought about. It gave me a clear purpose in life. So, after a few weeks of trying to cope with the emotional rollercoaster of my kid's diagnosis, I decided to try to find a treatment intervention for their disease. That was the day I decided to do the improbable, potentially the impossible – tame a genetic disease. Take on the system as Just A Dad.


Q: What did you do next?

A: At the time, I was a manager at a large construction firm in Boston. I was involved with building the hospital, university, and biotechnology infrastructure of Boston and Cambridge through the 80s and 90s. I had a sense of the physical manifestation of health care delivery, drug development, basic research facilities, animal studies, and the emerging biotech boom that characterized that hotbed era in Genetown. So I needed to convert my experiential knowledge of what was above the ceilings and behind the walls to help my kids. So as a lay person, I went about learning the science and medical lingo necessary to begin to understand how you would create a project management plan to tame a genetic disease.

I began to insert myself into places I was not qualified to be in. I encroached onto the world of scientists, researchers, and clinical investigators. I had unique access because these were “my” facilities. So after my work day in construction, I volunteered and joined prestigious research groups working from 6pm to 2am in the lab to learn alongside brilliant doctoral students. It was hands on learning about what genetic and basic biomedical research entails. My sleep habits were destroyed from then on. But, I also became absolutely fascinated with the new science of genetics and genomics. I got the sense that this technology and science would have irreversible effects on most things in the century ahead. I was only slightly correct. It has turned out to have a much larger impact. Genomics has shaped my career ever since.

Anyhow, we created a patient directed research foundation and we went on to organize an international biobank, patient registry, longitudinal studies, find the causal gene for my children's disease. Patent it. Create and license clinical diagnostics. Create animal models. And finally launch human clinical intervention trials for the disease. It´s been an exciting few years.

We are now working at creating an industrialized system to tackle small molecule drug development and clinical studies for rare and neglected diseases in a systematic way never attempted before. The next few years will be exciting too.


Q: You've done so many different things in the health care arena in such a short time, what's the secret to your success?

A: My Mom says, I was just lucky… Thanks, Mom! 
But I think it has a lot to do with trying to live life with a fearless attitude. Failure is an option, in some circumstances it is the most likely outcome. But I say, so what? I chose action and risk failure. I rush in and do things I think need to be done on things that matter. I have a belief, that if I'm always working to help alleviate human suffering and the burden of disease in this world then I want to make sure I'm exhausted at the end of each and every day. Hopefully I have a positive impact.


Q: What do you think about these achievements?

A: I've been blessed with wonderful and insightful children (excuse me, they are young adults now). Because of them I have become the person I am today. They helped me become a better Dad. That is the greatest achievement. We all traveled the world together to help organize the international disease community and help people around the globe. The most gratifying achievements have been helping various disease groups do the same thing; find genes, create diagnostics and therapies, as well as delivering services to patients in all kinds of circumstances. Helping folks do it faster and better than I did it. I can't imagine doing anything else.


Q: What do you think your experiences mean for the future of health care?

A: I am Just a Dad. I got engaged as an advocate and information empowered lay person. I did nothing earth shattering. I just incorporated the emerging technologies that are available to most Americans – the Internet, social networking, shared knowledge, the power of self organized groups and a desire to solve a problem. It's a simple but powerful equation.

I believe as collective health literacy improves and the challenges continue to confront the financing and delivery of health care in this country there will be a catalyzing effect that will produce more empowered, disruptive men and women in health care.

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[Reprinted with permission.]