The Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
Scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio have shared the modified SARS-CoV-2 virus with labs around the world to help in the fight against COVID-19. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed health science, speakers said Thursday during a symposium that gathered practitioners and advocates from around the globe.

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute concluded a two-day virtual symposium Friday while also celebrating its 80th anniversary. The symposium hosted more than 50 speakers during 10 sessions Thursday and Friday, bringing together health officials from Africa, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Texas.

The symposium focused on the interconnectedness of the science community and the lasting impact pandemic collaborations will have on global health.

Opening with remarks by former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the symposium featured keynote speaker Barbara Pierce Bush, whom Texas Biomed President and CEO Dr. Larry Schlesinger interviewed regarding her role in global health.

Bush, co-founder of Global Health Corps and the daughter of President George W. Bush, commended Schlesinger and Texas Biomed for the role it has played in researching COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines over the past year.

Schlesinger and Bush discussed the increasing need for scientists, advocates, and politicians to work together.

“We have to be interdisciplinary when we think about solving problems,” Bush said. “You can’t solve a problem in a silo without considering the other social aspects that affect it.”

The pandemic has shown that the world is not as separated as many believe by geopolitical lines, said Cory Hallam, Texas Biomed vice president of business and development. In a world where a pathogen can be carried across the globe in just 12 hours, closing the gap in access to health care is vital, he said.

“Looking ahead to the future, it’s not so much if another pandemic is going to happen – it’s when,” said panelist Jordi Torrelles, a tuberculosis professor at Texas Biomed. “We need to have effective isolation procedures in place … [and focus on] global coordination.”

The heightened awareness of global health’s importance makes this a prime moment to expand global health services before the world’s interest in the subject fades, Bush said.

“I used to talk about working in global health, and [my friends’] eyes glazed over,” Bush said. “They now get why this matters. We have demonstrated in the past year why this matters from an investment standpoint and from an infrastructure standpoint. Not just for COVID, but for every other health issue that we know … since we are one human body.”

With diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and Zika still affecting developing countries organizations like Texas Biomed are critical right now, Hallam said. The institute has been involved in scientific innovation for more than 80 years, he said.

Since assuming his role as president and CEO of Texas Biomed in 2017, growing the research institute’s worldwide reputation and recognition has been a goal of Schlesinger’s. Earlier this year, Schlesinger was recognized as the World Affairs Council of San Antonio’s International Citizen of the Year for his contributions to “San Antonio’s growth as an international city.”

“Texas Biomed is a place of hope, and it’s obviously hope for the future, but that hope starts right now,” Schlesinger said. “The vaccine is proof that the work that’s being done [here] today is impacting all of us and not only in the United States but around the world.

Disclosure: Texas Biomed is a San Antonio Report business member.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.