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Rusli Ismail completed PharmD at the University of Minnesota in 1983 and joined Universiti Sains Malaysia as a lecturer where he developed TDM and clinical pharmacy. He left USM as Professor and Director at its Institute for Research in Molecular Medicine in 2012 to head the Centre of Excellence in Research in HIV/AIDS at Universiti Malaya. In 2017, Rusli joined UnisZA at its new Faculty of Medicine where he also currently chairs its Human Ethics Committee. He has supervised more than 30 graduate students and published extensively in reputed journals. He helped pioneered the introduction of harm reduction in Malaysia to fight HIV/AIDS.
In research, Rusli started with therapeutic drug monitoring and currently focuses on pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenetics and personalized medicine especially as they pertain to opiate dependence and HIV/AIDS. He is especially focused on ethnic variations in diseases and pharmacology and has published extensively on the pharmacogenetics of the Malaysian ethnic groups especially on its contributions to pharmacologic variability.