Aleister Saunders, PhD

Executive Vice Provost for Research & Innovation
Research & Innovation

As Executive Vice Provost, Aleister Saunders, PhD, oversees the University’s research and innovation enterprise, responsible for the strategic, compliance and grants management aspects of research as well as the licensing and commercialization of Drexel-created innovations. Saunders is principally responsible for helping Drexel University achieve Carnegie Classification as a “Very High Research Activity” (R1) institution, first attained in 2018 and reaffirmed in 2022. In 2020, Drexel also achieved recognition as the top-ranked mid-sized University for Innovation Impact.


Aleister Saunders, PhD, is an accomplished educator, researcher and administrator who serves as mentor to undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers in and out of the classroom. A biochemist by training, he oversees an active laboratory that investigates the biochemical, genetic and molecular/cellular biology aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of his research program is to identify genes, proteins and pathways that are intimately associated with disease pathogenesis. He is particularly interested in identifying drug-like compounds to exploit the discoveries made in the laboratory. His research program has been funded by a variety of federal and state agencies and foundations including the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Health, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute and the Cure Alzheimer’s Foundation. He has also served on NIH study sections to review grant applications. 

As a member of Provost’s Office leadership, Saunders has been an active member of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America team since 2015, helping to organize Drexel's response and its partnership with MIT to form AFFOA, a Manufacturing USA institute funded by the Department of Defense. Together with Professor Genevieve Dion and President John Fry, he helped secure cost share to establish Drexel's Center for Functional Fabrics, which houses the PA Fabric Discovery Center, both of which report directly to him. Regionally, Aleister has facilitated Drexel’s academic/industrial partnership with Spark Therapeutics to create a state-of-the-art gene therapy facility on Drexel’s campus. He also manages Drexel’s response to federal regulations related to undue foreign influence while maintaining academic freedom. 

Prior to being appointed Executive Vice Provost for Research & Innovation, Saunders served as Senior Vice Provost for Research. He also held the positions of Associate Dean for Natural Sciences Research and Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences; Associate Department Head of the Department of Biology and Director of Drexel University’s RNAi Resource Center. He currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Margaret Q. Landenberger Research Foundation, as well as the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the University City Science Center. 

Saunders obtained his BS in biochemistry from the Pennsylvania State University and a PhD in the same subject from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also completed post-doctoral research fellowships at Harvard Medical School in Functional Genomics and later in Genetics. Following these fellowships, he served as an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School prior to joining Drexel University in 2002.

Office of Research & Innovation