Archives: Team Member

Lester D. Smith, Jr.

Prior to his time at Southern Research, Lester served as the chief financial officer for the City of Birmingham, where he managed the city’s $452 million budget. In his time at the City, Smith’s accomplishments included modernizing the business license system, stabilizing the pension system, refinancing substantial debt, and restructuring budget items to save taxpayer money. He joins SR after most recently serving as North America finance director for Kysor Warren. Lester has also held leadership positions at YMCA of Greater Birmingham and at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Auburn University.

Alyssa McQuilling

McQuilling leads the energy and environment research team, focusing on energy transition, energy storage testing and other environmental challenges. She has nearly 10 years of research experience in air quality, energy and agricultural topics, and her scientific record includes peer-reviewed publications and presentations on a wide range of topics. McQuilling joined Southern Research in 2016, where she oversaw the operation and commissioning of two energy storage systems. Her current focus includes proposals to improve air quality monitoring in underserved communities, ensure rural communities are included in electrification efforts, and prepare Alabama’s workforce to meet demands from the energy storage and electric vehicle sectors. McQuilling received a doctorate and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from North Carolina State University.

Donghui Bao

Bao is a research scientist in the Chemistry Department at Southern Research. His main research interests are ADME, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, and bioanalytical chemistry.

Bao received a doctorate in chemistry from Rutgers University, after which he completed a two-year, post-doctoral study at Pfizer Inc. (formerly Parke-Davis). Before joining Southern Research in 2014, he held research & development positions at several pharmaceutical companies, including Wyeth, Cumbre, and Pharmasset, where he contributed to the discovery/development of Sofosbuvir (PSI-7977) and several other compounds that went into clinical trials.

Fusataka Koide

Koide joined Southern Research’s infectious disease program in 2007. He has 18 years of experience in research and program leadership, and he specializes in animal studies to evaluate novel vaccines and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases including dengue, Zika, and yellow fever. In his previous experience, he worked at Nabi Pharmaceuticals, where he was involved in the research and development of a vaccine for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). He previously worked Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he worked on studies related to newly developed cancer vaccines and also was involved in more than 10 phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials. He is currently directing multiple dengue and Zika vaccine pre-clinical and clinical programs for commercial and government clients. His most recent research interests focus on the animal model development for Zika virus infection. Koide received his master’s degree in immunology and microbiology at the New York Medical College.

Grace Brumlow

Brumlow joined Southern Research in August 2022. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where her dissertation work focused on pharmacological interventions of cardiac arrhythmogenesis in inherited forms of heart failure. Brumlow’s research interests involve employment of in vivo studies and ex vivo perfusion systems to understand the critical involvement of paracrine signaling mechanisms in sudden cardiac death. Prior to joining Southern Research, Brumlow served as a senior scientist and business development specialist at DiscoveryBioMed, a small CRO focused on diseased human cell model development and custom bioassay design. There she contributed to the business success and laboratory operations of a specialized sector of the company called Sentirix, a niche provider of cell-based assays designed to probe the biochemical pathways involved in human taste perception. Brumlow received a bachelor’s degree in violin performance and bachelor’s degree in biology from Furman University.

Harry Nortega

Nortega performs process testing and sample analysis in support of the Department of Energy’s NCCC located at Southern Company’s Plant Gaston. He installs and operates state-of-the-art sampling equipment at critical process locations, carrying out research and development measurements that provide the basis for the evaluation of a broad range of carbon capture technologies. Prior to joining Southern Research in 2006, he trained and worked on commercial and industrial electrical installation projects.

James Toomey

Toomey serves as the attending veterinarian and the manager of animal care and research. He has regulatory oversight for all animals at Southern Research, including management of the animal program and maintenance of animal facilities. He is responsible for ensuring compliance with USDA Animal Welfare Regulations, Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, as well as maintaining the organization’s accreditation through the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. He has played a role in a wide variety of research studies using animals, and is eligible to sit for board examinations in Laboratory Animal Medicine. Prior to joining Southern Research, Toomey managed colonies of breeding nonhuman primates and maintained CDC quarantine practices for nonhuman primates being brought into the U.S. In addition, he worked in a private veterinary private practice. Toomey graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and received a doctorate from LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Jason Johnson

As the director of technology at Southern Research, Johnson leads a team of dedicated professionals intent on providing Southern Research with world-class technology solutions, with a focus on innovation, agility and cost-efficiency. He is also on the information technology leadership team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he serves faculty, researchers, staff and students. He also holds a non-tenure track appointment as a professor at UAB. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from University of Alabama and a master’s in management information systems from UAB. He is an active member of the Alabama Chief Information Officers Association.

Jennifer Pickens

Pickens holds more than 10 years of scientific leadership experience as a subject matter expert in infectious diseases and preclinical drug development focused on the advancement of cutting-edge vaccine and therapeutic medical countermeasures in the nonclinical and clinical setting. Before joining Southern Research in 2019 and again in 2022, she earned a Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in 2011 under the mentorship of S. Mark Tompkins and later completed postdoctoral fellowships (2012-2017) within the laboratory of James E. Crowe, Jr at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and Ralph A. Tripp at the University Georgia. Her career has focused on managing preclinical research programs aimed at identifying and assessing the efficacy of novel antiviral therapeutics against potentially lethal respiratory viruses (i.e. respiratory syncytial virus, metapneumoviruses, SARS-CoV-2 and influenza), as well as managing more than 40 clinical trials within the Lymphoma and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Division at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, working alongside renowned physician leaders Dr. Ian W. Flinn and Dr. Carlos Bachier. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her work focused predominately on developing the nonclinical commercial and government A/BSL-3 SAR-CoV-2 program at Southern Research before joining the Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Authority (BARDA) in 2021 as a nonclinical and infectious disease SME/Biologist. She returned to Southern Research in 2022 as Associate Director of Client Services; and in her new role, she works alongside commercial and government clients providing scientific and operational guidance through the lifecycle of their pre-IND pipelines. Her research has resulted in eight highly-cited publications and invitations to present at national and international conferences.

Pickens’ Key Accomplishments:
• Identified low pathogenic avian influenza strains that exhibited enhanced pandemic potential
• In vitro and in vivo characterized antiviral therapeutics against influenza, RSV, orthopoxvirus, SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and hMPV
• Helped develop the hamster and NHP animal models for SARS-CoV-2