By Edwin L. Aguirre
Robert S. Ward, president and CEO of California-based ExThera Medical Corp. and a 1971 chemical engineering graduate of UMass Lowell, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), which is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.
According to the NAE, academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice or education,” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”
Ward is being recognized for his accomplishments in the development and commercialization of biomedical devices and prosthetic implants.
ExThera Medical, a privately held medical device company founded in 2008, is developing blood filters capable of capturing and removing bacteria, viruses and parasites from a patient’s blood. The technology uses innovative biomaterials to address the emerging global pandemic threat of drug-resistant bloodstream infections.
“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by such a prestigious organization,” says Ward. “I decided to become a chemical engineer while I was still in grade school, and I’m glad I did. Since graduating from UMass Lowell [then known as Lowell Technological Institute], I have been lucky to be involved in the development and application of new biomaterials, medical devices and implants. It is gratifying to know that our contributions have helped improve clinical outcomes for many patients.”
Ward holds more than 60 U.S. patents and has co-authored more than 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals.
“Being elected to the NAE is an honor to which all engineers aspire,” says Dean Joseph Hartman of the Francis College of Engineering. “We are truly proud of Bob for his tremendous achievement and the breakthroughs that he is making for the future of healthcare. It is really exciting to see what UMass Lowell alumni can achieve.”
Ward is among 83 new members from the U.S. and 16 from foreign countries who have been elected to the academy this year. Other honorees include Jeff Bezos, the president, CEO and chairman of Amazon.com, as well as researchers, engineers and executives from NASA, Google, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Boeing, General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Corning, Dow Chemical, Sandia National Laboratories and MIT, among others. The class’s induction ceremony will be held on Sept. 30, during the NAE’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Biomaterials
Before taking the helm of ExThera Medical, Ward was founder and president/CEO of the Polymer Technology Group, now DSM Biomedical. Prior to this, he served in various executive management positions at Thoratec Corp. and Avco Medical Products.
Ward has more than 45 years of experience in the development and manufacturing of medical devices as well as R&D and manufacturing of novel biomaterials for critical applications. Materials and components developed and manufactured under his direction have been used in hundreds of devices and prosthetic implants, such as pacemakers, orthopedic implants and vascular grafts, catheters, contact lenses, implantable sensors and artificial hearts.
An Excellent Value for the Money
Ward says the education and training he received from UMass Lowell went a long way in helping launch his professional career.
“The university offered excellent value for the money,” he says. “My engineering education has allowed me to do just about anything professionally.” In 2012, UMass Lowell conferred an honorary doctorate on Ward for his lifelong pioneering work in biomaterials and medical devices.
He and his wife, Gail, live in Northern California, where they grow Syrah grapes and make wine. When not buying or investing in life-science startups, Ward pursues his other passions, which include playing bass guitar, glassblowing, golfing, scuba diving and underwater photography.
The Wards have supported UMass Lowell in numerous ways, including the establishment of the Robert and Gail Ward Biomedical Materials Development Laboratory at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center on North Campus, the Ward Family Chemical Engineering Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Robert and Gail Ward Endowed Professorship in Biomedical Materials Development Fund.
“Support for public education is such an important priority,” he explains. “Public universities are a critical antidote to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few – something, I think, that’s getting worse and worse as time passes. It’s really so important that anyone from anywhere who wants it has access to an education. So whatever I’m able to do toward that goal, I’m happy to try to do.”