Alumni Profiles

Summer 2023

From training future physician-scientists to investing in discoveries, these alumni are making an impact.

Vertical portrait of a middle aged Asian woman wearing a white coat over a black dress, with her hands in the pockets of her white coat

Bridging the Bench-to-Bedside Gap

Dr. Katharine Hsu

Director of the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program

Physician-scientists connect research with clinical care, playing a vital role in a world of ever-evolving, complex disease mechanisms and therapies. Dr. Katharine Hsu (Ph.D. ’93, M.D. ’94), director of the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program, a collaborative program between Weill Cornell Medicine, The Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan Kettering, understands this — and is working to train the next generation to push forward breakthroughs in biomedical science to improve patient care.

“There is a widening gap between clinical medicine and laboratory research, fueled by major technical developments and super-specialization in clinical work and research,” says Dr. Hsu, an alumna of the program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. “A specialized population of physician-scientists is necessary to bridge that gap.”

The Tri-Institutional Program serves as one of the largest inter-institutional collaborations dedicated to joint M.D. and Ph.D. education, having trained more than 450 physician-scientists since its inception. Dr. Hsu, who specializes in immunology research and treatment of blood cancers and sees patients on the bone marrow transplantation service at Memorial Sloan Kettering, succeeded program director Dr. Olaf Andersen, who led the initiative for more than 25 years. Dr. Hsu says she is determined to carry forward the feeling she had as an M.D.-Ph.D. candidate “that leadership cared about the integrated training of physician-scientists.”

As advances like CRISPR technology, next-generation sequencing and computational biology revolutionize research and patient care, Dr. Hsu considers the dual role of the physician-scientist critical. There’s an important public health benefit, too. “M.D.-Ph.Ds. are fluent in clinical language and scientific language, which makes them amazing communicators,” she says. “They can take a relatively complex scientific concept and communicate the mechanism and importance of the concept to the public.”

As director of the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. program, Dr. Hsu aspires to train diverse physician-researchers who represent the patient population. “Whatever their background, our students will be empowered to be the future leaders in medical research,” she says. “When you have individuals who come to a problem with diverse analytical skills and founts of knowledge, this is where creative solutions happen.”

—Tracy Vogel

Funding Innovation

Dr. Behzad Aghazadeh

Managing Partner, Avoro Capital

As managing partner and portfolio manager of Avoro Capital, a life sciences investment firm focused on emerging biotechnology companies, Dr. Behzad Aghazadeh (Ph.D. ’00) grew a small, $10 million hedge fund into a $5.3 billion powerhouse. But before Avoro, his career path took him through Booz Allen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a few other stops on Wall Street. He even briefly considered opening a barbecue restaurant. “Straight shot, straight as an arrow, exactly as planned,” he jokes about his career path.

Dr. Aghazadeh earned a Ph.D. in physiology, biophysics and molecular medicine from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, but his interests were always at the intersection of science and emerging technology, rather than pure research. “I always had a desire to take something from science to the business world,” he says. Fortunately, Dr. Michael Rosenberg, “the most incredible Ph.D. adviser you could ask for,” who was then at Memorial Sloan Kettering, was very supportive. “When I was leaving science — which is not something you want to tell a Ph.D. adviser who was setting you up for a postdoc — he was supportive of that. He helped me a lot,” says Dr. Aghazadeh.

In the late 1990s, while pursuing his doctoral degree, “it was almost unheard of to get a Ph.D. in bioscience and then head to Wall Street,” Dr. Aghazadeh says. But that solid grounding in science has been invaluable to his work. “What I tell our investors is that we can’t do what we do without understanding science at the deepest fundamental level,” he says. “Science is the common language of our business.”

For scientists focused on goals like innovation, the work can be tremendously rewarding, Dr. Aghazadeh says, recalling one investment in a breast cancer drug that significantly extends patients’ lives.

And for entrepreneurial scientists intent on moving life-saving solutions from the lab to patients, the nimble nature of supporting life sciences companies through the lens of hedge fund investing can be crucial for success, “by providing the necessary capital to keep advancing.”

—Tracy Vogel

Facilitating Science

Dr. Dandan Xu

Senior Director, vSIM and Data Curation, QuartzBio

When Dr. Dandan Xu (M.S. ’12, Ph.D. ’14) started her academic career in 2006, she envisioned a life working in a laboratory and teaching students. But as she tried out some rotations in infectious disease labs, the methods, rather than the research, interested her more.

“I was a pretty bad scientist!” she says. “But my role now in helping scientists do their work is something I’m effective at and find rewarding.”

Last year, Dr. Xu became senior director of virtual sample inventory management operations (vSIM) and data curation for QuartzBio, part of Precision for Medicine. QuartzBio acquired the company SolveBio, where Xu had worked since 2014 as a data scientist and chief scientific officer. QuartzBio offers SaaS solutions that enable centralization and evaluation of sample and biomarker data across multiple lab sites.

Programmers and scientists can struggle to communicate. But with a foot in each world, Dr. Xu is a translator who builds tools that facilitate the science, a role she describes as “scientist-adjacent.” “Ultimately, I wanted to make solutions that would have a faster impact in the world, and I thought industry would be better for that,” she says.

Dr. Xu joined SolveBio after earning a Ph.D. in immunology and microbial pathogenesis at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Growing up in Silicon Valley, she’d known that data science was an expanding field and had deliberately used programming language common to industry throughout graduate school.

Transferring from a company with employees in the double-digits to one with thousands, Dr. Xu looks forward to the challenge of growing the vSIM team and business. “Big Pharma has realized it needs to get its data in a place where anyone at a company who wants access for the right reason can have it so they can do things like larger scale analysis across all data,” she says. “Then you can start using machine learning approaches to classify and get more information out of data than in the old days, when it was siloed, sitting in someone’s computer folder.”

—Tracy Vogel

[Credit] Photo: John Abbott, Portraits: Rebecca Clarke

Summer 2023 Front to Back

  • From the Dean

    Message from the Dean

    As Weill Cornell Medicine marks the 125th year since its founding, it is striking to reflect upon how our values have endured.
  • Features

    Window Into the Future

    An ambitious research program could hold clues to improving the health of women and their children across their lifespans.
  • Features

    Caught on Camera

    Recordings made in Dr. Simon Scheuring’s lab reveal how elusive molecules embedded in cell membranes get their jobs done — for good and ill.
  • Features

    Risks and Rewards

    Alumnus Dr. Anthony Fauci (M.D. ’66) joins Dr. Jay Varma in a candid conversation about the future of public health and more.
  • Notable

    Two Landmark Anniversaries

    Weill Cornell Medicine is celebrating more than a century of excellence in medical education, scientific discovery and patient care, commemorating 125 years since its founding.
  • Notable

    Honoring Diversity

    In a celebration of Weill Cornell Medicine’s commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in academic medicine, the institution honored nearly a dozen faculty, students and staff.
  • Notable

    Overheard

    Weill Cornell Medicine faculty members are leading the conversation about important health issues across the country and around the world.
  • Notable

    News Briefs

    Notable faculty appointments, honors, awards and more — from around campus and beyond.
  • Notable

    Dateline

    The Salzburg-Cornell Seminars, now part of the Open Medical Institute (OMI), celebrates 30 years of knowledge-sharing, having served more than 26,000 fellows from 130 countries.
  • Grand Rounds

    There Is Hope

    How immunotherapy offered a new lease on life.
  • Grand Rounds

    Medical School, Minus the Debt

    A scholarship program reduces medical education debt.
  • Grand Rounds

    News Briefs

    The latest on teaching, learning and patient-centered care.
  • Discovery

    Filling a Critical Gap in the Gut

    An important discovery positions fungi as a missing part of research on how the gut biome influences health.
  • Discovery

    New Clues to Coma Recovery

    Delays in regaining consciousness may serve a purpose: protecting the brain from oxygen deprivation.
  • Discovery

    Findings

    The latest advances in faculty research, published in the world’s leading journals.
  • Alumni

    Profiles

    From training future physician-scientists to investing in discoveries, these alumni are making an impact.
  • Alumni

    Notes

    What’s new with you? Keep your classmates up to date on all your latest achievements with an Alumni Note.
  • Alumni

    In Memoriam

    Marking the passing of our faculty and alumni.
  • Alumni

    Moments

    Marking celebratory events in the lives of our students, including Match Day and Graduation.
  • Second Opinion

    Nurturing Well-Being

    How can the health-care workforce recover from pandemic burnout?
  • Exchange

    High-Risk, High-Reward

    Two enterprising scientists discuss how the ecosystem for innovation at Weill Cornell Medicine provides the support entrepreneurial faculty and students need to turn their promising research into commercially viable drugs and other treatments.
  • Muse

    In the Flow

    Dr. Navarro Millán is a rheumatologist, clinical investigator and multi-instrumentalist.
  • Spotlight

    Making Health Care Affordable and Equitable

    Dr. Cheryl Pegus (M.D. ’88) is a cardiologist working in health-care businesses on new products to meet consumer needs, enhance health equity and improve health outcomes.