Neal Walker walked the halls of Lehigh over twenty years ago. He arrived at Lehigh thinking he would pursue an engineering degree. After all, Lehigh’s reputation was always one of offering a quality education in engineering, right?
Well, that’s true – but Lehigh has always offered a quality education in the biological sciences, too!
Neal Walker ended up taking a totally different path. He discovered his love of life sciences! In 1992, Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in biology which altered his compass coordinates from the one he expected to follow when he entered Lehigh’s portal in 1988.
Dr. Neal Walker, '92
With diploma in hand, Walker left Lehigh and to begin his education at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), where he earned his degree in medicine in 1997. After graduating from PCOM, Dr. Walker completed an internship at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York. Walker then went on to his residency in dermatology at the Lehigh Valley Hospital (Allentown, PA) and PCOM. The last two years of his residency he served as chief resident. Dr. Walker is a board-certified dermatologist.
But it isn’t as simple as that!
Walker decided to also pursue an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. During his medical residency, Dr. Walker realized his acumen in the business arena.
While in my dermatology residency, I co-founded my first company, Octagon Research Solutions which was a service and software business that helped biopharmaceutical companies develop drugs from Investigational New Drug (IND)status through a New Drug Application (NDA). I enjoyed helping patients as a practicing dermatologist, so I continued to practice one day a week while I began to look for solutions to the treatment gaps that existed in dermatology. I felt that I could make a more positive impact and reach more patients if I began to push for more innovation in dermatologic drug development. This led me to start searching for interesting compounds to develop which ultimately resulted in starting a number of companies with the help of venture capital financing.
|Dr. Neal Walker ('92)
Dr. Walker’s first job in the pharmaceutical industry was at Johnson & Johnson. He then went on to BioMed Sciences, Inc. (an incubator at Ben Franklin Techventures on Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus), and then served as a medical consultant at Astra-Merck. He co-founded Octagon Research Solutions in 1999. The company was sold to Accenture in 2012. He also co-founded Trigenesis Therapeutics in 2003, which later sold to Dr. Reddy’s Labs. In 2009, Walker went on to co-found and served as President and CEO of Vicept Therapeutics, Inc., which was then sold to Allergan in 2011. Dr. Walker is currently the President and CEO of Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc.
Neal Walker has worked as a serial entrepreneur – he has started 5 companies to date…all in the biopharmaceutical space.
Dr. Walker has also worked with a number of universities and their tech transfer offices to identify and commercialize promising technologies based on faculty research. His many years of business development experience spans from working with large biopharmaceutical companies, start-ups, and universities in the identification, acquisition/licensing, and financing of novel development stage assets and in-market brands. Walker also served on the advisory committee safety team for the prescription to over-the-counter switch of Prilosec®.
While at Lehigh, Neal Walker learned the basics of research methods which laid the foundation for his future.
I did research while an undergrad with Prof. Murray Itzkowitz. We were looking at animal behavior with Texas Cichlids. It was a great experience learning how to do research at the bench level and really understand how a study was designed and what steps needed to be incorporated. This practical application of the coursework was invaluable in prepping me for the research environment of medical school, as well as the industry research with which I am now involved.
The department of biological sciences continues to stress the importance of research in the educational curriculum. But Walker also has some practical advice for Lehigh’s students.
All things being equal, it is the relationships and networks (both personal and professional) that you build over time that will be the biggest contributors to your success in business and in life. You also need to be persistently introspective about who you are and what you really want to do. I started out in materials engineering at Lehigh. Since then I went to medical school and business school, trained as a dermatologist, and ultimately became a biotech entrepreneur and have now started my fifth company. Quite a different road than I could have ever envisioned as an undergrad.
Neal Walker recently came back to visit Lehigh’s campus after having been gone for many years. He was impressed!
The campus seems a lot bigger than it did back in 1992. Although I always liked the character of the older buildings and architecture, I couldn’t help but notice a more vibrant, contemporary feel to the campus which seemed to reflect the more diverse, well-rounded nature of the university. When I attended Lehigh, it was mainly known as an engineering school. It feels a lot different than that today.
Dr. Walker lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Christy, and 7 year old son, Jake.
We sincerely thank Dr. Walker for taking time out of his busy schedule to allow us to highlight his career for this publication.