Ernest Mario grew up in Northern New Jersey, attending the Clifton Public Schools, elementary school #6, Christopher Columbus Middle School and Clifton High School. He received a bachelor of science in Pharmacy from Rutgers University, and Masters and Ph.D. degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Rhode Island. As a youth, Mario earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America in 1954; he was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 2000 for his service to youth.
He was a registered pharmacist in the State of New York and worked as a community pharmacist during his early career. After completing his graduate work, he began a career in the pharmaceutical industry, beginning as a researcher for Strasenburgh Laboratories in Rochester, New York. He subsequently held positions with SmithKline & French in Philadelphia, PA; E.R. Squibb & Sons in New Brunswick, NJ and Princeton, NJ; and Glaxo Inc. in Research Triangle Park, NC. In 1990 he became the Chief Executive Officer of Glaxo Holdings, plc, based out of London, England. He served as Deputy Chairman of the Board and CEO of Glaxo Holdings from 1992 to 1993. He was the Chairman and CEO of Alza Corporation, based in Palo Alto, CA, from 1993 until the company was purchased by Johnson & Johnson, Inc, in 2001. After Alza, Mario became Chairman and CEO of Reliant Pharmaceuticals, based in Liberty Corner, New Jersey. He was also the non-executive Chairman of Pharmaceutical Product Development, Inc, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, from 1993 to 2009.
In April 2010, Mario was appointed to the Board of Directors for Vivus Pharmaceuticals. Vivus is a biotechnology corporation based out of Mountain View, California. The US Food & Drug Administration recently approved the drugs Avanfil & Qsymia in April and June 2012 respectively. Avanfil is used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction and Qsymia is indicated for weight loss in obese patients.
Mario has served as a trustee of Duke University from 1989 to 2007, and chaired the Duke University Health System board of trustees from its inception until 2007. On July 1, 2007, he became a Trustee Emeritus of Duke University. In 2009 he was awarded The University Medal, Duke's highest recognition of service to the school. Mario's 18 years on the Duke University board made him the second longest serving trustee in the school's history. The longest tenure belongs to Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans (1961–1981), great granddaughter of Washington Duke, for whom the school is named.
He has held numerous civic and public health positions, including Chair of the American Lung Association and Chair of the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education. Mario advises the schools of pharmacy at the University of Maryland, University of Rhode Island, and Rutgers University.
In December 2001, the Rutgers University College of Pharmacy was renamed the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University.
In 2007, Mario was recognized for a lifetime of service to the profession of pharmacy when the American Pharmacists Association awarded him the Remington Medal, the highest award in professional pharmacy. He is the 79th Remington Medalist.