10 Coastal Alabama leaders you should know: Mark Gillespie
Posted on November 28, 2013 by Andrew Byrd
from AL.com: When Dr. Mark Gillespie moved to Mobile in 1995 to become chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of South Alabama, he couldn't have known that he would eventually be part of a team that could change the face of medicine.
But he did just that in 2012 when Exscien Corp. was formed to develop drugs to repair damage to mitochondrial DNA.
"Every once in a while I come across something that makes me say 'we have to pursue this,' and this drug issue really hit me like that," said Gillespie, a co-founder. "My role was to take that good idea and expand it into as many different areas as we all could think of."
The drug offers the possibility of managing acute lung injury, like that of a transplanted organ. The business plan is to develop a drug to use in a human lung transplant, a step in which the company is in the beginning stages of pre-clinical trials.
"We don't know if it will work, but we're on the way to doing that. If it works, we'll move on to more serious diseases," Gillespie said.
The biotech company, which received a significant federal grant to aid funding in 2012, was the winner of this year's Alabama Launchpad competition, a program that allows startup companies to compete for a share of start-up funding.
Most important thing your mom/dad ever taught you?
I discussed this question with my parents - my dad is 94 and my mom is 92 - just last night. We all agree that their most valuable advice was the admonition to pick a career that I am passionate about, and do it to the best of my ability.
Best advice you ever got?
It's a tie, and neither bit of advice came from an individual that I know well. The first came when I was a very young, inexperienced assistant professor and was (surprisingly) invited to present a seminar at the University of Michigan. While there, I had an opportunity to meet a famous critical care doctor; I had never met him, but he was well known to many of my friends. During a wide-ranging conversation with the gentleman he said, "I try to make good decisions, and I try even harder to make my decisions good." Sage advice.
The second important bit of insight came during a presentation delivered by Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering the structure of hemoglobin. At the end of his presentation, someone from the audience asked Dr. Pauling how he had so many good ideas. He replied, "I didn't have a lot of good ideas. I had a lot of ideas, and other people decided which ones were good." As a scientist who writes a lot of grants for medical research, this has always been a strategic guide for me.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
I suppose I'd be a mind-reader. Knowing what people really think would be a useful superpower.
I can eat my weight in crawfish. This may not fall in the "guilty" category of pleasure. But, as someone born and raised in Chicago (disclaimer: I've lived in the South my entire adult life), my childhood friends would shake their heads in amazement that I've become a fan of a spicy "creek-dwelling" crustacean.
Best book you ever read and why?
Tough choice. In a professional context, the best book would be "Lincoln on Leadership" by Donald T. Phillips, which is a scholarly, historical analysis of President Lincoln's management strategies. I think it's useful in almost any situation. From a more recreational perspective, the best book - at least the most recent one - is "The Presidents Club" by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, which is a non-fiction that describes how ex-presidents and sitting presidents get along. Most of the book takes place during my lifetime, and although I can remember the individuals and some of the events of their times, the personally complex and sometimes challenging interactions between these powerful individuals are fascinating.
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