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Q+A with Ryan Tomlinson, Healx’s new VP of Engineering

1 September 2021   |  
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In August, we welcomed Ryan Tomlinson to the Healx team as our new VP of Engineering. Ryan joined us from GlaxoSmithKline, where he was Senior Director of Product Engineering and he has previously held leadership roles at Salesforce and OpenTable. We caught up with Ryan to learn a bit more about what he’ll be doing at Healx, and his vision for the future of rare disease treatment development.

Welcome to Healx, Ryan! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you’ll be doing at the company?

As VP of Engineering, I’m responsible for leading the cross-functional Product Team (who are in charge of developing and improving the products that our in-house curators, bioinformaticians and pharmacologists use in their drug discovery work) and the Platform Infrastructure Team. My teams work at the intersection of AI/ML and science, and our ultimate aim is to build digital products that aid decision-making in our drug discovery and development pipeline in order to bring more novel treatments towards the clinic and hopefully on to patients!

Before Healx I’ve held roles at GSK, Salesforce and Opentable and led product and platform engineer teams. In each role, I tend to focus on supporting teams build for fast generation of value in rapid cycles of discovery and delivery. But, as a leader, my focus isn’t just on the technical aspects – it’s also on how we organise ourselves and how we build an environment of psychological safety, feedback and transparency. That is really important to me!

Outside of work I mostly spend time with my family: my wife Amy, Anya (3) and Halle (1). I did have hobbies such as climbing and running and I hope to get back to them one day 🙂.

You say you’ve just joined us from GSK – what were you doing there?

Yeah, I was Senior Director of Engineering at GlaxoSmithKline for nearly three years. I’d never worked in pharmaceuticals before but I was really excited about the opportunity to join an organisation going through a digital transformation. Having come from tech-native organisations before that, it was eye-opening to see the differences in approach but it was a fascinating journey helping them modernise how they built digital products and the platforms that they run on.

Whilst there, I led cross-functional teams made up of engineers, product managers and design/UX specialists and we were responsible for transforming how the company built and delivered digital products. One of the things I’m most proud of achieving there is our re-thinking of the approach. We moved away from traditional waterfall project management models to more continuous and cross-collaborative methods of product thinking and product discovery which were led by user research and data.

What first inspired you about Healx?

Healx is a mission-driven company, founded with the aim of completely transforming how rare disease treatments are discovered and developed. It was immediately evident that everyone I spoke to during my early conversations were living the mission, truly believed in it and felt an equal passion for it – and that really inspired me. 

Healx also has quite a unique collaboration model, where we work very closely with patient groups and other external experts to embed their insights and expertise into our drug discovery and development programmes. I love opportunities to work cross-functionally and collaboratively, so that certainly got me interested. 

It’s also a really good time to join Healx, as we’re going through a growth stage but it’s still at a size where it’s small enough to be nimble and move at speed. That, coupled with the incredible high talent density and stellar leadership, just ticked all the boxes for me.

How have your first couple of weeks been? What have you been focusing on?

I’ve never had such an impressive onboarding experience and it has been evident that a lot of effort has been put into the programme. I’ve already had the chance to meet people in the Pre-Clinical, Clinical, Commercial, MarComms and People teams and discuss their OKRs (objectives), challenges and opportunities.

Within my own team, I’ve been mostly in learning mode as I try to understand the product strategy as well as the software development lifecycle and landscape of the infrastructure. I have a 30, 60 and 90 day plan which I’ve shared with the team to give visibility as to my focus in these early days and they’ve all been fantastic in supporting me.

How do you think AI and data will revolutionise drug discovery and development for rare diseases?

Sadly, the overall cost of R&D in drug discovery has continued to increase over the years and the success rate of that spend has continued to decline. For those living with a rare disease, this challenge is compounded by the fact that many large pharmaceutical companies are focussing less on rare diseases (since the patient population is so small!). AI and data are absolutely critical if we want to significantly reduce the time and improve the accuracy of predictions throughout the lifecycle of drug discovery. We now have the ability to connect vast amounts of data from various sources and make sense of it in a way that was previously unimaginable. That’s going to have a significant impact on our ability to discover and develop drugs to help the 95% of rare disease patients that are currently living with no treatments.

Are you going to be growing your team? (If so, where can people learn more?)

Absolutely! We will be growing both our platform infrastructure team and our product teams. So we’re actively on the lookout for software engineers, ops/platform engineers and product managers of various levels. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, then you can find out more on our career site: https://healx.ai/careers/.

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