A startup program coordinator for Virginia Commonwealth University has been selected to lead a $14 million biomedical research project in Hampton Roads.
Leaders at Sentara Healthcare, Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School have selected Kevin Leslie as executive director of the new Hampton Roads Biomedical Research Consortium.
The consortium, a partnership between Sentara and the two schools, is designed to jump-start bioscience research and entrepreneurship while promoting health care improvements in Hampton Roads, Leslie said.
“It’s a big thing that we’re trying to do, and especially (since) all of these pieces have been around Hampton Roads for a while,” Leslie said. “So, it’s a nice formal structure to engage everybody.”
The program was created during the 2019 General Assembly regular session, when lawmakers appropriated $14 million in the state budget. Since then, Leslie said stakeholders are figuring how out best structure the program.
The consortium is also analyzing anonymous Medicaid patient data from the region, said Morris Foster, ODU’s vice president for research and program organizer, in a news release.
“The resulting algorithms and applications could produce extensive benefits for our region, including wearable devices to monitor health and more pinpointed recommendations for patients,” Foster added.
Leslie envisions his role in the consortium as managing and coordinating all the community stakeholders. Beyond the three member institutions, Leslie said he hopes to reach community members and entrepreneurs.
Before coming to Hampton Roads, Leslie was the associate director of VCU Ventures, a program at the Richmond college that helps faculty and staff launch startup companies. Leslie also has worked as a scientist in the private sector. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from William & Mary and a doctorate in integrated life sciences from VCU.
Foster said in the release that Leslie knows the Virginia biotech ecosystem and also understands the nuances of public and private funding opportunities.
“Under his direction, the consortium stands poised to build the biotech sector in Hampton Roads and catalyze more innovation,” he added.
Leslie said setting up the program will be a multiyear process. The collaborators are figuring out what capital improvements need to be made — lab construction and equipment, but also hardware to store program and patient data. Leslie will also begin reaching out to the community.
The ultimate goal is for the program to be self-sustaining, with program teams accessing public and private grant funding for their ongoing research, Leslie said.
“Graduate students will also gain valuable experience in projects that will strengthen their dissertations and their scientific potential after they leave ODU,” added Foster in the news release.