Scientific Collaboration is Infectious

Memphis is currently in the midst of one of its most important tourism months of the year. For most people, May in Memphis means music, barbecue, cultural events and a sunset symphony. What is often overlooked is that the Memphis in May International Festival is also about business exchange. It is in this category that Memphis Bioworks Foundation is proud to again play a leadership role.

This year, our Business Association sponsored, in conjunction with Memphis In May, the Greater Memphis Chamber and DDN, a very special breakfast reception and lecture by one of the most recognized and respected scientists from the Philippines. Dr. Jaime Montoya, MD, MSc, is Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and Professor in Infectious Disease at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

As a recognized public health expert and a leader in public, private collaboration in the biosciences certified by the Royal College of Physicians, London, U.K. and the Philippine Board of Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease, Dr. Montoya is a perfect match for our Memphis community in its international outreach and scientific exchange. While his breakfast address focused on his experience in growing bioscience businesses and collaboration, his international expertise in infectious disease proved to be of particular interest to our local community. Infectious disease is one of the medical arenas in which Memphis is making a meaningful and lasting scientific mark. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is recognized for its work in infectious disease research on many levels. Its department of infectious diseases studies devastating infectious diseases of childhood through a comprehensive approach including basic scientific research, translational trials and bedside care. From novel vaccine approaches for parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza viruses and pneumococcus, to immune response studies, to work in HIV/AIDS and its impact on children, research at the hospital is having a global impact.

Just down the street on the UT-Baptist Research Park campus being developed by Memphis Bioworks is the Regional Biocontainment Lab. Operated by the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center (UTHSC), the lab is a critical part of the national efforts to prepare for and mitigate the risk of biocontaminants including infectious diseases. And, growing out of research at the university level are startup organizations like Dr. Jim Dale’s early stage vaccine development company Vaxent, which is progressing toward commercialization of its

Group A streptococcus vaccine. Strep-A, as it is known, is the primary cause of pharyngitis or “strep throat” in children, as well as other diseases such as rheumatic fever that have devastating impacts around the world.

During his time in Memphis, Dr. Montoya was able to address the breakfast gathering and several other functions. He also met with Dr. Dale and two leaders in infectious disease research from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Elaine Tuomanen, MD, Chair, Department of Infectious Diseases, and Miguela Caniza, MD, Infectious Diseases Program Director – International Outreach who oversees an initiative for St. Jude in the Philippines. I have no doubt that Dr. Montoya and his fellow doctors from Memphis had much in common and will develop scientific bonds that last well beyond the festivals of May. 

In reading through the website for The Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, phrases like “provide leadership in health research,” “advocate and support a health research culture,” and “mobilize and complement health research resources to generate knowledge, technologies and innovations” all stand out to me. Those are goals Memphis Bioworks and our local partner organizations share. Each year, our international exchange during the month of May reinforces to me that we are not alone in what we are doing here in Memphis. There are similar efforts and similar goals being expressed in communities of all kinds and cultures around the world. The more we join together to enhance our communities’ efforts and strengths, the more impact we can have on the world we share. 

Last year, we built scientific bonds with organizations in Belgium. This year it is the Philippines. That is what Memphis in May is all about – taking Memphis to the world and bringing the world to Memphis – scientifically speaking that is.

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