Dr. Thomas J. White received his B.A. in Chemistry and Biology from Johns Hopkins University and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry (molecular evolution) from the University of California at Berkeley – including research in the Pharmacology Department at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His postdoctoral research on breast cancer was carried out at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco and on antibiotic resistance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. From 1968-71, he was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Voinjama, Liberia and trained elementary school teachers in math, science and public health.
From 1978-1988, White was employed at the biotechnology firm Cetus Corporation where he held the positions of Vice President of Research and Associate Director of Research and Development. He worked on the discovery, research and development of human proteins as therapeutics, such as beta-interferon for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and interleukin-2 for renal cell carcinoma. He directed the research and development of products using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for applications in basic research, forensics and molecular diagnostics. The inventor of PCR, Kary Mullis, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993.
From 1989-2000 White worked for Roche Molecular Systems, a diagnostics division of Hoffmann-La Roche. As Senior Vice President of Research and Development, he was responsible for Roche’s R&D on PCR-based tests for the medical diagnosis of genetic diseases, cancer, infectious diseases (TB, STD’s), for screening the blood supply for HIV, HCV and HBV, and for developing new applications of PCR for basic research, forensics and the human genome project. In 1993, in research sponsored by the NIH’s Office of Research Integrity, he and his colleagues published an article in Nature on the genetic analysis of archival HIV samples from the Gallo and Montagnier laboratories which definitively established the origin of the first isolate of the AIDS virus. In 1999, Dr. White and coworkers received the Caregiver Award from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation for their research and contributions to the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, specifically for developing a ‘viral load assay’ for HIV, which changed the paradigm for AIDS therapy from treating people with life-threatening opportunistic infections to treating pre-symptomatic people with high blood levels of the virus. This quantitative PCR assay also became the surrogate test for drug efficacy which facilitated FDA approval of the first HIV protease inhibitors and all subsequent HIV antiviral drugs.
During this decade, he directed post-doctoral research fellows working on HIV evolution and transmission, and was a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley where he collaborated with John W. Taylor and several postdocs working on the molecular phylogenetics and population biology of human and plant pathogens. Their seminal article on fungal evolution has been cited more than 15,000 times and is the foundation for genetic bar-coding of all plant and fungal species.
From 2001-2011, White was Senior VP of R&D and Chief Scientific Officer at Celera Corporation. Celera’s research involved the discovery of new genomic, expression and proteomic biomarkers and the development and FDA registration of molecular diagnostic products for cystic fibrosis, Fragile-X, HIV drug resistance, hepatitis C virus genotyping, thrombosis, as well as laboratory developed (CLIA) tests for complex common diseases (cardiovascular, stroke, autoimmunity, liver) and breast and lung cancer. Dr. White retired in June 2011 and was the Regents’ Lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley for 2012-2013. Since 2014, he has served on the advisory board of the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, a nonprofit organization enabling the advancement of global health priorities based in Geneva, Switzerland. At UC Berkeley, he is a member of the advisory boards of the Human Rights Center, the College of Natural Resources, the SAGE Scholars program and a Trustee of the University of California Press Foundation. He also serves as a member of the board of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for people with a terminal illness.
In 1975, Tom met the poet Leslie Scalapino; they were married in 1987 and lived in north Oakland, CA. Following her death in 2010, he established several poetry scholarships, lecture series, and an award for women performance writers in her memory.
View Tom White’s CV here.