Off the Clock with John Aitchison of the Center for Infectious Disease Research

This month's C-Suite Confidential interview.

January 29, 2018

John Levesque


Tell us about your Off the Clock activities at

This article appears in print in the January 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

John Aitchison is the president/director at the Center for Infectious Disease Research. The Center for Infectous Disease Research works on finding diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

Tell us what your company does and what attracted you to this business.

We conduct the research that leads to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for the worlds most challenging infectious diseases, like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, as well as emerging diseases like Zika. Many of these diseases have baffled scientists for hundreds of years while killing millions of people and causing endless suffering. But now were sitting at a juncture of science, technology and medicine thats led to a new approach to research, called systems biology, which weve successfully integrated at CID Research. Utilizing data and technology in our approach to problem solving is speeding up the rate of discovery and breaking down siloes. The result is that scientific inquiry is progressing at an incredible pace and we are making discoveries that many could not have dreamed about just a few years ago.

This is an exciting time to be doing science. I believe we are on the verge of making the kinds of scientific breakthroughs that will enable us to treat and prevent infectious diseases that today still kill about 14 million people per year.

I was hooked on this field back in college when I took a research course where I made a small discovery. When I made my first discovery, I was amazed. I was the only person in the world that had ever made that discovery. That was an incredible feeling, and ever since that day, I strive to recapture that feeling. It happens occasionally, and it is still great; but, its even more exciting when you realize that the discovery will impact lives, and lead to cures.

What book/TV show/podcast are you reading/watching/listening to and why?

I love reading thrillers. I like fun and exciting page turners that take me away from the day-to-day challenges of science. My favorite is Linwood Barclay probably because beyond being a good storyteller, he is a very good friend, so I love to read his novels in his voice. I think it also gives me a different insight into Linwoods character he is a bit messed up and I really like picking up the phone and telling him so.

I also really enjoy the Naked Scientists podcasts great broad content ranging from molecular cell biology to astronomy and physics, and really knowledgeable hosts. is also fantastic the acronym says it all.

Whats your favorite spot in Seattle?

The water sailing on the water, looking at the water from shore, or even riding a ferry. Seattle is really a special place to be surrounded by such natural beauty.

What kind of car do you drive and why?

I am currently between cars. I am driving my daughters car. I just sold my favorite car of all time. It was a 1993 Lexus SC400, which I bought secondhand over 10 years ago. It was a great car comfortable and sporty, but it was time for it to go. I think it will be hard to replace.

Tell us something people dont know about you.

My first job was selling mens clothing at Sears. It lasted only about two months. I was fired because the manager thought I had not made any sales. Actually, I was inputting other employees numbers into the register so they would get the credit/commission. They had families and mortgages and stuff. I was just looking to get some money for Christmas presents.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

I love sailing. My second-favorite place to be is sitting on the low side of a boat going upwind.

This article appears in print in the January 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.