Thirty years ago, biochemist Katherine Wood Klinger, Ph.D., and microbiologist Jeffrey D. Klinger, Ph.D., learned the innovative patterns of analytical thought, problem solving and research-to-clinical-medicine bridge building that have established them as senior leaders at the biopharmaceutical company Genzyme Corporation.
The couple received that solid foundation at the UT Health Science Center’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which awarded their doctoral degrees in 1978. Over their careers, the Klingers have contributed to scientific discoveries and therapies to alleviate human suffering in infectious diseases and genetic diseases.
“We’re very fond of the place; we tell everyone we were there as members of one of the first classes,” Dr. Katherine Klinger said. “We often tell people we could not have gotten a better education. It was an ideal spot for people who wanted to one day work at the interface between industry and science.”
“It was a new institution that had attracted world-class faculty who happened to be particularly appropriate for our areas of interest,” Dr. Jeffrey Klinger added. “Not only were students expected to be grounded in academic disciplines, but they were to be flexible and well rounded enough to prepare for a changing world.”
The main influences on Dr. Katherine Klinger’s doctoral studies were Armand Guarino, Ph.D., the founding dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and John Lee, Ph.D., who remains a professor in the Department of Biochemistry. Dr. Guarino was a charismatic leader who listened to input, forged consensus and made ideas reality, she said. Dr. Lee, meanwhile, was her major professor who ran a very popular laboratory, attracting many talented students.
Dr. Jeffrey Klinger’s major professor in the Department of Microbiology was Joe Bass, Ph.D., a bacteriologist. Dr. Bass spoke against the existing belief that bacterial infections were a thing of the past because of the rise of antibiotics. “He and I were convinced that emergence of infections was far from over, and that we were on the brink of using the new molecular tools to understand the mechanisms by which bacteria cause disease and, by understanding those, to develop new therapies,” Dr. Klinger said.
The couple moved from faculty positions at Case Western Reserve University to join Integrated Genetics (later acquired by Genzyme) in 1984. The move to a new company was viewed as risky, but Dr. Katherine Klinger recalls seeking counsel from Evelyn Oginsky, Ph.D., associate dean of the Health Science Center Graduate School, who said spiritedly: “If opportunity is knocking, get out of the shower and answer the door!”
The Klingers did so, and today Katherine is Presidential Fellow and senior vice president at Genzyme while Jeffrey is vice president of research and development operations. Katherine recently co-authored a ground-breaking paper in Nature on novel therapies for polycystic kidney disease. She was also named Genzyme’s first Presidential Fellow, an honor that acknowledges her more than two decades of contributions both to the corporation and to multiple areas of genetic disease and oncology research.
Jeffrey is president of the Northeast Branch, American Society for Microbiology. He directed building and renovation of a large research facility for drug development and biomaterials research in Waltham, Mass., and work from his lab has led to the development of a novel non-antibiotic polymer therapy for patients with Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. He also has a major role in the company’s program for neglected diseases of the developing world.
They are unassuming about their achievements but very outspoken about the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “In 2003,” Jeffrey said, “we put together a reunion of microbiology and biochemistry students in San Antonio. We had 40-50 students and faculty show up and had the chance to honor some of the early faculty. It wasa wonderful time.”