“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Schlesinger as the new president and CEO of Texas BioMed,” Board Chair Dr. James O. Rubin stated in a press release. “After an extensive search, Dr. Schlesinger stood out as a man of vision, purpose and confidence who can lead Texas Biomed into a new era of growth and global prestige in scientific research. He is an eminent researcher in his own right and will bring with him a team of experts and funding which will greatly grow our efforts to combat tuberculosis.”
Texas BioMed, formerly the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to advancing health worldwide. Located on a 200-acre campus on the northwest side of San Antonio, the institute partners with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapeutics against viral pathogens causing AIDS, hepatitis, herpes, hemorrhagic fevers, and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria, schistosomiasis, and Chagas disease. The institute also leads programs in the genetics of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, psychiatric disorders, and other diseases.
Schlesinger has been serving as Ohio State University’s Samuel Saslaw Professor of Medicine, chair of the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity, and director of the Center for Microbial Interface Biology. He directed the Medical Scientist Training Program and has joint appointments in the College of Public Health and departments of microbiology, veterinary biosciences, molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics. Schlesinger was recruited to Ohio State from the University of Iowa in 2002.
With more than 30 years of experience in medicine and infectious disease research, Schlesinger is an internationally recognized medical scientist with expertise in the origin and development of tuberculosis and other airborne communicable infections, the institute said.
He and his research team have made major discoveries on the human immune response to pathogens. His laboratory studies innate immunity to infectious pathogens by focusing on their interactions with human mononuclear phagocytes, which are cells that protect the body by ingesting harmful cells, bacteria, or foreign particles.
Schlesinger will continue his research at Texas BioMed, bringing his team of researchers and funding supporting the study of tuberculosis and lung biology.
The institute said Schlesinger has been continually funded for nearly 30 years by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies, as well as private foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
He is a recipient of awards from the NIH, the American Lung Association, Department of Veterans Affairs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Defense for his work on tuberculosis.
The Rivard Report spoke with Dr. Schlesinger by phone Thursday afternoon.
RR: Dr. Schlesinger, your background in microbial infection and immunity, public health, and veterinary biosciences makes you a unique match for Texas BioMed, given its emphasis on genetics, virology and immunology and its BSL-3 lab and Southwest National Primate Research Center.
Did you have a previous connection with Texas BioMed? How were you identified in TexasBioMed’s search for a new CEO?
Dr. Larry Schlesinger: I have colleagues in many places including San Antonio and they made me aware of the opportunity at the institute. My passion is cutting edge biomedical research that impacts human lives. The institute’s rich history intrigued me, as well as its unique facilities and capabilities, coupled with its highly committed scientists who are passionate about what they do.
I also see there is strong interest in and support from the local community. The state of science today requires that the public understands what we do. The institute is in a perfect position given all these strengths and it is that combination of attributes that prompted me to explore this opportunity.
RR: What do you envision as your role as the new CEO of Texas BioMed?
LS: I bring some unique qualities to the position because I am an active researcher and therefore, I “walk the walk.” It gives me unique insights into the challenges my colleagues experience as members of the scientific community.
I’ve been in leadership roles for almost 20 years and have learned a lot about how to optimize environments of learning. Each scientist brings strengths and specific attributes, but we also must work in a collaborative manner on multidisciplinary research, which requires undertaking different approaches in order to make impactful discoveries.
My experience in this approach should bode well for my new role as we work together on the future of the institute.
My strength in team building which I will emphasize in the leadership of the institute, as well as the support from the board of trustees and the community will be integral in the the future of the institute.
RR: You are bringing your team of researchers and funding supporting the study of tuberculosis and lung biology. How will your research complement the work at Texas BioMed?
LS: (At the institute) there is already outstanding science on infections that are of concern globally. My research will complement the work already underway at the institute beautifully.
I’ve been doing this for a while, juggling my research responsibilities and leadership roles. I’ve had outstanding senior level talent directing my laboratory, with my guidance, so I look to collaborative teamwork to continue that work. I also use this same approach to work with administrative leadership so we can approach this as a team as well.
RR: What are your thoughts about recent concerns regarding federal funding for and transparency in sharing scientific research?
LS: If you look at support for biomedical research at the federal level, it continues to be a primary funding source for the kind of research we need in this country. In the past 12 years there has been flat [federal levels of] funding.
In the future, I think we will need to be nimble, to think creatively and to partner with private and public entities so that the institute can maintain its fertile footing in this arena. [Once I arrive] we will begin a strategic planning process to think about how to optimize the institute’s research for the future.
RR: Are there research areas of focus you would like to see Texas BioMed undertake in the future? If so, why?
LS: I arrive at the institute on May 31. We will then plan to stage a strategic planning process so we can take a look at the research directions going forward. In the end it will be about science that makes sense for the institute to pursue and where we can have impact both nationally and internationally.