Larry Schlesinger, Texas Biomedical Research Institute President and CEO.
Larry Schlesinger, Texas Biomedical Research Institute President and CEO. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute says its new 10-year strategic vision for the institute’s future – which entails building two new facilities and doubling in staff – is already in motion.

Texas Biomed, the San Antonio science research organization best known for housing 2,500 lab primates for studying infection and chronic diseases, will officially begin implementing its 2018-2028 plan in September, but a strategic-plan-prescribed shift toward a collaborative culture within the institute already has begun to take hold, said Dr. Larry Schlesinger, Texas Biomed’s president and CEO.

Schlesinger said the collaborative culture, along with a plan to specialize in infectious diseases, will help Texas Biomed become globally recognized.

“Outside San Antonio – and particularly outside the state of Texas – not enough people know us,” Schlesinger said. “Our external face to the world has not been strong enough and part of that has been that I think we have tried to do too many different types of science in this institute for an institute that isn’t that big. And, therefore, what we needed to do in this strategic plan is look critically at what our assets are, what are our talents, what our funding base is, and develop a much stronger and focused agenda in science so that the outside world can know us better.”

Schlesinger didn’t say how much the nonprofit organization would need to secure to build two new facilities on its 200-acre campus, but noted it would likely exceed the $35 million the organization spent to construct its Earl Slick Research Center building that opened in 2014. Schlesinger said funding would need to come from a variety of sources, including philanthropic efforts, and that overall, the 2018-2028 plan is the organization’s most ambitious investment to date.

In addition to investing in capital projects and instilling a collaborative culture, the institute will rebrand as a “world-class” research facility focusing on infectious diseases.

According to Texas Biomed’s strategic plan, infectious diseases will become the No. 1 cause of death globally and cost $100 trillion by 2050.

When Schlesinger arrived at the institute about a year ago, he said he “knew it was time for a change.” Rather than taking a top-down approach, Schlesinger solicited input from the 350 staff members at the West San Antonio facility. That feedback helped form the guiding principles of the strategic plan.

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
The Texas Biomedical Research Institute. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The goal at Texas Biomed is to make the institute analogous to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston but for infectious disease study, he said.

Vice President of Research Joanne Turner’s role in implementing the 10-year plan will be to ensure the research arm of the institute is well supported with training, equipment, facilities, and a collaborative work environment. She said Texas Biomed plans to grow its research faculty from approximately 60 doctoral-level scientists to about 120 by the end of the 10-year plan.

Texas Biomed expects to cover a portion of the additional faculty’s salaries through federal grants, Turner said. Ideally, grants would fund anywhere from 60 to 100 percent of their salaries, she said. The institute has enough funds to sustain an increase of 45 faculty members but has budgeted in case of a shortfall.

Having a narrower focus helps with recruitment, she said.

The plan cites a hypercompetitive atmosphere in the science research space – for talent and dollars – as being an existential threat to Texas Biomed, but that it remains steadfast in establishing itself as a “one-of-a-kind, premier research institute fully committed to protecting you, our families, our neighbors, the community, and the world from the threat of infectious diseases,” Schlesinger said.

The 10-year plan entails a massive overhaul, but Turner is confident Texas Biomed would accomplish all of its objectives, as many of them are already being implemented, such as its shift from a “siloed” work culture to creating more opportunities to collaborate.

“That’s what’s so fun about this process we’re not just changing one part of it,” she said. “We’re really taking on everything at once.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.