Texas A&M drives innovative collaborations for public health preparedness
Dr. Gerald Parker, veterinarian, scientist, Aggie, U.S. Army veteran and former deputy assistant secretary of defense, has added a new notch to his belt: vice president for public health preparedness and response at Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC). As he comes full circle with a return to Aggieland, he is ideally positioned to lead the newly formed TAMHSC office focused on driving integrated efforts for building a national biodefense framework.
“Texas A&M is exceptionally good at making basic scientific discoveries, and more importantly, turning those innovative discoveries into real, tangible products,” Parker says. “It’s part of the Aggie culture, we are a culture of doers – we make discoveries and develop capabilities.”
Parker is a prime example of an Aggie “doer.” A 35-year veteran in federal public service, including nine years as a senior executive with the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and most recently the Department of Defense, where he was responsible for developing national strategies and capabilities to protect United States service members from emerging infectious disease and biological and chemical threats; and 26 years active duty military in the Army Medical Department, Parker brings expertise and knowledge from many lessons learned throughout his vast career in the public sector.
“What I realized in the last decade of my work in the public sector at the national strategy and policy level was that I truly missed being close to where the science and technology innovations were actually being discovered,” Parker confesses. “My new role gives me the opportunity to be on-the-ground, helping shed light on the critical work being done ‘in the trenches’ of emergency preparedness efforts, and to spur the new innovation on some of the hardest challenges facing global health security and public health preparedness.”
As part of his new gig, Parker also serves as principal investigator of the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM). He will continue the CIADM’s work aimed at enhancing the nation’s ability to respond to emerging infectious diseases, including pandemic influenza and other chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats with vaccines and countermeasures manufactured in the United States. Established in 2012, the CIADM was founded on a $285.6 million public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is one of only three such centers in the country, and the only center led by an academic institution, a highly unique and innovative approach to public health emergency preparedness.
Parker will lead the charge in building the infrastructure needed to ensure the nation is prepared to respond when the next national disaster strikes – whether a naturally occurring emerging infectious disease pandemic, or a deliberate attack against the United States with a weapon of mass destruction. To achieve this, he plans to identify innovative opportunities for partnerships, both near and far. His first step is to look in his own backyard at Texas A&M.
“By leveraging capabilities and assets we already have in place within the A&M System – with experts in public health, medical training and emergency management – the university is in a position to lead the state and nation in concerted disaster and public health preparedness and response efforts and to make a significant impact on global health security.”
Additionally, with help from the National Center for Therapeutics and Manufacturing at Texas A&M, CIADM is at the forefront of tackling one of the greatest issues facing those in the biodefense and pandemic preparedness realm: bridging the so-called valley of death to enable advanced development of vaccines, biologics, and therapeutics much more rapidly, efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before.
These efforts, Parker explains, hold incredible potential for the future of public health preparedness and response at the national, and even global, level.
“As a nation, I think we all understand the high risks we run if the infrastructure isn’t in place when the next major threat emerges, so that’s why we currently have multiple entities each pursuing solutions,” Parker says. “But a segmented approach isn’t going to solve this puzzle. Instead, we must have coordinated efforts that channel all available resources from intellectual capital and public policy to new science and technology discoveries linked to innovative manufacturing capabilities.”
With a firm grasp on the integral aspect of shared public and private partnerships, Parker will promote heightened coordination and collaboration at all levels of government involved in national, homeland and health security, as well as partners across the commercial biopharmaceutical industry.
“At the heart of disaster preparedness and response are strong relationships at all levels – from local, state and federal government, to the private sector and academia,” Parker explains.
A perfect example of the necessity of this marriage between governmental, public and private partnerships can be found in the nation’s response to recent natural disasters.
“The collaborative response across all domains of the public and private sector and the ability to channel resources at the right time was most evident by the nation’s improved response to the most recent hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Sandy,” he says. “Responses to these natural disasters have come ten-fold from those a decade ago – including hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.”
Success often comes when you have the right people joining together at the right time in support of a common mission. For Parker, these issues are top of mind and he understands it takes new scientific and technological approaches paired with innovative public and private sector collaborations to be better prepared for the imminent threats facing our nation – whether intentional or naturally emerging.