Biochemist Richard Ulevitch continues his lifelong quest to understand the life sciences

Richard Ulevitch was raised in Cleveland and studied at Washington and Jefferson College, B.A., and the University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. He started a Fellowship at the University of Minnesota but was offered the chance to come to The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).

After meeting his wife of 37 years, Susan Slesinger, who had come to La Jolla to live in a beautiful place where she could also work as a clinical social worker, he decided to put down roots here. He became a TSRI faculty member in the Department of Immunology. In 1986, he moved to Geneva Switzerland to work for one year with Bernard Mach, a top European molecular biologist and one of Europe’s first biotechnology entrepreneurs. This relationship resulted in learning important new scientific approaches that Ulevitch applied on his return to TSRI in 1987.

It also served as a unique beginning for his current endeavors. In 2008, he reduced efforts at TSRI and joined a life-science focused Venture Capital Fund (5AM Ventures). “I am still first-and-foremost a scientist,” he said, “but now use my professional experiences to build new biotech companies.”

He joined the board of the La Jolla Jewish Community Center at the time the center was being planned. In 1985, he joined the La Jolla Playhouse board and remained a board member for 15 years.

What brought you to La Jolla?

After finishing graduate school, a serendipitous set of events resulted in Charlie Cochrane M.D., one of the founders of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), offering me a post-doctoral fellowship in immunology. Although moving to California was never on my “to do” list, this was the beginning of four decades in this community.

What makes this area special to you?

First and foremost is meeting my wife of 37 years, Susan, in La Jolla in 1972. La Jolla has so many features that distinguish it from other places I have lived – East Coast, Midwest, Europe. It remains a unique Southern California beach community and vacation destination for the rest of the world.

We have world class educational and research institutions that have been here for decades and new ones added on a yearly basis. And the people who populate these institutions add incredible creativity, diversity and special skills to our community. At the same time, we have individual business owners who love this area and are committed to providing great services and venues for its residents. All of this is within easy reach from this seaside Village.


f you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

Return the Children’s Pool to the same condition it was in 1972.

Construct a safe pedestrian/bike path along Torrey Pines Road to connect the Village with the Shores.

Open a movie theater to replace the Cove and the Unicorn.

Who or what inspires you?

Here I narrowed my focus to members of this community who are inspirational. And in my mind two individuals really stand out – Ellen and Roger Revelle. I was privileged to know both.

The Revelles were the moral compass of the community, setting the highest standards for themselves and expecting the same of others. Most importantly, they helped build and support educational and cultural organizations that form the core assets of what makes this community great. They set an example that many have followed.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

This dinner party would include my wife and two children Annie, 33, and David, 29, both the maternal and paternal grandparents and me. Our children had limited contact with their grandparents because of living far apart and due to the passing of all grandparents when our children were young. And none of the grandparents had the pleasure of watching their grandchildren grow into adulthood. This dinner would provide the opportunity to let our children and their grandparents make up for this gap in their respective lives.

What are you currently reading?

“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,” by Erik Larson; ”The Greater Journey,” by David McCullough; and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon.

What is your most-prized possession?

My family, and the high regard afforded them in their personal and professional lives.

What do you do for fun?

Travel … to Paris multiple times each year where I can enjoy the art, food and ambiance.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Doing my best to provide my children with the skills and resources required to build their own independent lives.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.” and “Chance favors the prepared mind.”