Thomas Lynch obituary: Pharma executive with passion for public health

Successful businessman’s extensive philanthropy ranged from education to music

 

Thomas Lynch. Born: July 17th, 1956

Died: April 1st, 2020

A chartered accountant by profession, Thomas Lynch spent a career in biopharmaceuticals specialising in research discovery and clinical trials. He devoted his personal energy and influence to public health and resourcing higher education, specifically in the area of human health.

A man of deep conviction and belief in equality, Lynch was a very active chair of the Mater hospital, acutely conscious that its location in the heart of Dublin’s north inner city meant it served a severely disadvantaged community while at the same time, as a level-four acute hospital, provided a national centre of excellence.

In his wider role as chair of Ireland East Hospital Group he sought to create a centre of excellence for patient care, health profession education, and translational medical research, matching the best in the world. This model would maximise the strengths of the two major acute hospitals, St Vincent’s University Hospital and the Mater, the nine other hospitals in the group, and University College Dublin as academic partner, by sharing clinical expertise, systems, academic training and research. The publication of the Government’s Sláintecare healthcare policy in July 2019 proposed six new regional integrated care organisations and, while embracing the plan to improve integration of community and hospital healthcare, he advocated strongly for the retention of hospital group networks and the need to incorporate an academic health centre model in the developing structures.

Born in Belfast, Lynch attended Queen’s University and served as president of the students’ union for two years before graduating with a degree in economics in 1978.

While at Queen’s he spent his summers working as a volunteer in the Mater Hospital in Belfast and developed an interest which subsequently became a passion for medicine and medical sciences.

Qualifying as an accountant, he worked extensively in the US and Europe for KPMG and when he began to work with Élan and ICON his interest in the pharma sector really blossomed.

Boards

He became chief financial officer of Élan in 1993 and helped its transition into a major biotechnology company. He played a central role in the foundation of Warner Chilcott and went on to pursue a very successful career spanning the boards of biopharmaceutical and clinical research companies including Microbiotica, Stamford Devices, Adherium, Evofem Biosciences, GW Pharma, Profectus Biosciences, Amarin, and ICON. He also served on the board of the IDA from 2000 to 2010.

His knowledge and expertise led to his appointment in 2011 as chair of Molecular Medicine Ireland, now Clinical Research Development Ireland, a collaborative entity involving UCD, RCSI, University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, and NUI Galway and their associated academic hospitals. This research partnership is designed to accelerate the translation of biomedical research into improved diagnostics and therapies for patients. He was also a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Human Virology in the US.

A man of energy and integrity, he managed not only to put people at their ease but to bring them along in a path of consensus.

He enacted his philosophy that “when you have, you have to give back”. He chaired the Queen’s University Belfast Foundation for 12 years and, through his leadership and successful fundraising activities, Queen’s has become a major cancer centre – awarded the Queen Elizabeth prize as the foremost cancer centre in the UK in 2012.

He became involved in UCD and along with his wife, Deirdre, contributed to the major campaign for the UCD Centre for Science. He supported other fundraising campaigns and initiatives such as the Global Virus Network, a group of internationally renowned virologists who come together to respond to new virus diseases such as bird flu, Sars and now, poignantly, Covid-19.

His own release valve was music. Typical of the man, it wasn’t enough for him to attend performances and he took his patronage to a whole new level, becoming a trustee of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, between 1998 and 2010; governor of the Royal Ballet Companies, and chair of Opera Ireland until 2011. He was a director of the Dublin Choral Foundation and chaired the cross-Border orchestra, Camerata Ireland. He was a great fan and supporter of UCD Choral Scholars and his quiet generosity even reached the boys of the Palestrina Choir on their most recent tour to the US.

Another example of his quiet benevolence is the fine Robert Ballagh portrait of James Joyce, UCD’s most famous alumnus, which hangs in the foyer of O’Reilly Hall and forms a photo frame for generations of students on their graduation day.

A deeply spiritual man, Lynch was made a member of the Order of Knight of St Gregory by Pope Benedict and was chancellor of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Queen’s and UCD.

He is survived by his wife Deirdre, and his three children, Jennifer, Rebecca and Mark.