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Health and Medicine

225 years of Tar Heels: Fred Eshelman

An alumnus of Carolina, Fred Eshelman has founded several health care companies, including Pharmaceutical Product Development, which employed more than 10,000 professionals in 33 countries around the world.

Fred Eshelman speaks at a podium.
Dr. Fred Eshelman, delivers his remarks following the announcement of Eshelman's commitment of $100 million to the school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Wednesday (Dec. 3).

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

In 2017, Fred Eshelman offered up this advice for Carolina graduates: “Never stop learning, in your profession or your life,” he said. “Don’t take things at face value necessarily. Turn them around 180 degrees and see if you are missing something.”

That year, Eshelman received an honorary doctor of science degree at Carolina’s Spring Commencement, but it wasn’t the first time the 1972 Carolina graduate had been honored by the University. The Board of Trustees awarded him its highest honor, the William Richardson Davie Award, in 2009. Eshelman also has received Distinguished Service Medals from UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“I have been very fortunate in my career to be surrounded by smart, dedicated folks with great attitudes and focus. Watching them grow and take flight is what it’s all about,” he said. “As for me personally, being recognized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is as good as it gets.”

Eshelman is the founder of Eshelman Ventures LLC, an investment company primarily interested in private health care companies. In 1985, he founded and served as the CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development, a Wilmington-based company that helped drug companies develop and test new drugs. He started the company as the sole employee. Before he sold it in 2011, the company employed more than 10,000 professionals in 33 countries around the world. He also served as the founding chair of Furiex Pharmaceuticals, which spun out of Pharmaceutical Product Development and licensed and rapidly developed new medicines. He sold that company in 2014.

Eshelman has contributed nearly $140 million to Carolina’s School of Pharmacy since 2003, including a historic $100 million gift in 2014 — the largest in the University’s history and for any pharmacy school. The gift created the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, which provides the school’s faculty, staff and students with new resources to engage in timely, opportunistic, creative, risky and innovative work. The School of Pharmacy was named for Eshelman in 2008.

“The University is critical for the growth and well-being of our state, as well as its image nationally and internationally. It is also one of the largest economic engines in North Carolina,” Eshelman said. Supporting the pharmacy school has enabled its leaders, faculty and students to be “the pre-eminent position in the U.S., nurture cutting-edge research and change our profession for the better.”