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When Dr. Akudo Anyanwu received a call from the president and CEO of Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Dr. Larry Schlesinger, earlier this summer, the associate dean of development at Johns Hopkins University hadn’t been actively looking for a new job.
Still, Anyanwu said she couldn’t ignore what she saw as an opportunity of a lifetime: raising money for a nonprofit research institution on the frontlines of attacking the world’s most persistent infectious diseases, including the coronavirus. Texas Biomed has been studying the disease extensively since March.
“It was [a chance] that I could not say no to,” she said. “The issues that are being worked on at Texas Biomed are the issues of our time. You know, this [pandemic] is the most important issue on the planet. It is about what can save the human race. So why wouldn’t you say yes to a call like that?”
When she begins her new job next month, Anyanwu will fill a newly created role at the institute: vice president of development. She will take over many duties that have been performed by Texas Biomed’s vice president for advancement and public relations, Corbett Christie, who is retiring after working at the institute for more than 20 years.
Anyanwu will be responsible for securing local, national, and international financial support for Texas Biomed. She will serve on the senior leadership team of the institute, working to set institutional priorities, managing operations, and setting a development strategy that will drive the institute’s 10-year strategic plan.
“We are delighted Dr. Anyanwu will join our team and build upon the success the Institute has seen in recent years,” Schlesinger said in a statement. “Dr. Anyanwu’s experience in public health innovation, international philanthropy, and infectious diseases brings significant strength to our fundraising efforts and will grow the philanthropic program, attracting new supporters and enthusiasm for the work we do.”
Texas Biomed is funded through grants, donations, and investments. Created in 1941, the institute oversees more than 200 research projects in the areas of disease intervention and prevention, host pathogen interaction, and population health.
With an interest in world health since she was young, Anyanwu said she was drawn to the institute because of its mission.
Anyanwu, the daughter of parents who immigrated from West Africa, grew up in and around Philadelphia as her father pursued a doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned a medical degree from Tufts University, a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, and an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from Lehigh University.
“My parents were educators,” she said. “My parents then later on ended up doing some international work when I was much younger as well, so I went with them and I was placed in the American International School System.”
Anyanwu said she’s visited more than 30 countries, including Japan, Ghana, and Ethiopia, and has lived all over the world, such as in Nigeria, England, and the U.S.
Being around people from all over the world shaped her views, and she went on to work in global health at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
There, she set up programs across Africa to bring in funding to help patients with HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya.
In her previous roles, she raised more than $230 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from both government and private donors and more than $600 million for prevention programs in emergent nations.
In 2014, Anyanwu moved to Emory University in Georgia to lead a coalition that was researching and expanding preventative measures against soil-transmitted helminths, a parasitic infection common in developing countries. From there, she joined Johns Hopkins.
Anyanwu plans to move with her three children to San Antonio in the coming weeks.
“I look forward to getting behind this huge vision to take a 75-year-old research institute into its future as the leading research institute globally for infectious diseases,” she said.