Chief, Department of Molecular Biology
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Department of the Army
Fort Detrick, Maryland
Developed new countermeasures against biological weapons, including vaccines against botulinum toxin and ricin.
In February 2004, the deadly poison ricin was discovered in the mail room of Senator Bill Frist. During the Afghanistan war, traces of ricin were found in caves thought to be Al Qaeda hideouts. These incidents are among the many pieces of evidence that prove the threat of a bioterrorist attack is very real, and it is imperative that U.S. authorities take action to defend the American people against this risk. Dr. Leonard Smith is one of the leaders of the effort to develop medical countermeasures to biological attacks, and his research has helped to develop groundbreaking cures and treatments that could one day help save people’s lives.
Dr. Smith has been an integral member of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases for more than two decades, and he is one of the nation’s premier biodefense specialists. He is best known for his work to develop vaccine products to combat botulinum and ricin toxins.
Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxin protein and one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances in the world. Dr. Smith and his team of scientists designed novel botulinum toxin antigens and production processes for multiple botulinum toxin serotypes that will ultimately be formulated into a vaccine. Dr. Smith’s particular approach offers the potential to develop a safe and effective vaccine that meets today’s industry standards. Two botulinum toxin vaccines are in the clinical trial phase and three more vaccines are close to the testing phase.
Ricin is a poison made from the waste byproduct of castor beans and depending on the type of exposure, a dose the size of a pin’s head could be enough to kill an adult. Dr. Smith is spearheading the development of a ricin vaccine candidate that is being evaluated in advanced studies. He is also currently working to design the optimal dosing schedule for maximum protection against aerosol ricin.
He has worked not just to develop vaccines, but also therapeutic treatments. He has created therapeutics that will help speed the recovery for those suffering from botulism, a horrible ailment that causes paralysis. Dr. Smith’s product is the only clinical option that offers any immediate potential for the treatment of this lethal disease.
In addition to his work as a researcher, Dr. Smith is a prolific writer and consultant. He has published more than 90 peer-reviewed articles during his career, helping him earn a reputation as a bioterror expert. He recently advised an Institute of Medicine and National Research Council panel on “Accelerating the Research, Development and Acquisition of Medical Countermeasures against Biological Threat Agents.” Shortly after 9/11, he served on the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ blue ribbon panel on bioterrorism. He has also worked as an expert consultant on panels for the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
Dr. Smith’s colleagues praise him for his professionalism, but even more so for his passion and commitment to public service. They all mention that he is tenacious and will not quit a job until it is complete. He is deeply motivated by the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases’ mission to serve all of the American people, in particular the men and women in uniform. This was true even before his son’s recent tour in Iraq. It doesn’t matter who it is that is faced with the threat of a biological attack. Dr. Leonard Smith is going to do everything in his power to ensure the safety of the American people.