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Distinguished Alumnus

Thomas J. Schall

Thomas J. Schall

B.S., Biology, 1983

Thomas J. Schall is a unique combination of savvy businessman, innovative scientist, and generous humanitarian. His work in improving the availability of new and effective medicines and contributing to human health can be traced in part back to one event in 1982. Then an NIU undergraduate student, he was among those who spent an evening with Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. That experience, he says, made biology come alive for him. 

Dr. Schall earned his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford University, where he discovered one of the first chemokines – proteins that control the way immune cells enter organs and tissues – while  still a graduate student. Operating like a “traffic control system,” chemokines can be a problem with many inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis and even HIV and cancer. Since that first chemokine discovery, Dr. Schall has been involved in the discovery or co-discovery of almost one-third of all known chemokine receptors. 

After serving as a Visiting Research Scholar at Oxford University, he conducted research at Genentech and at DNAX Research Institute before founding ChemoCentryx in 1996. He built the company from the ground up while advancing his research and publishing in prestigious journals. Today, he has authored or co-authored over 100 book chapters and articles in such noted publications as the Journal of Immunology, Molecular Cancer, National Review of Immunology, Nature, PLoS One, and Science

Six humanitarian principles, developed by Dr. Schall, guide ChemoCentryx’s work:

  • Great science drives great medicine.
  • We have a moral obligation to use great science to discover and develop new medicines.
  • The medicines we develop should be safer, more effective, and more broadly available than existing standards of care.
  • We will be faster and cheaper in bringing new medicines into clinical practice.
  • Part of our moral obligation is to be far more “capital effective” than is standard in our industry.
  • Overall, we will adhere to a philosophy of “ethical drug development:” By making new medicines for significant clinical needs, by making superior products, and by making those products widely available, we become a self-sustaining and profitable enterprise that provides excellent returns for our investors.

 Dr. Schall holds four patents and is a highly sought-after lecturer, with over 400 invited presentations at scientific, medical, health care and investment conferences worldwide. His honors include Wellcome Visiting Professor of Basic Medicine (University of Rochester), Deal of the Year Award BayBIO Pantheon Winner, Outstanding Company Award/BayBIO Pantheon DiNA Award, and Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist. 

Beyond blazing the trail in drug development, he has also created a funding model unique to the industry, mixing corporate investment, private and venture capital, and contractual/government funding. Diversification of capitalization has afforded ChemoCentryx enormous flexibility in pursuing its goals, including forging an historic alliance with GlaxoSmithKline, who has adopted ChemoCentryx’s drug development model. Collectively, these strategies have translated into astounding success for ChemoCentryx, which is on track to have seven different drugs in clinical trials by year end – an unusually high rate of research productivity for a smaller company.   

In his field and among his fellow alumni, Dr. Thomas Schall stands out as a visionary leader, scientist, and humanitarian who truly exemplifies the spirit of this Distinguished Alumni award.