Tech Tonics: David Altshuler, Physician-Scientist In Pursuit Of The New

October 7th, 2019 |
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David Altshuler was living the academic dream as professor and human geneticist at Harvard and MIT, where he was co-founder and Deputy Director of the Broad Institute.  Yet in December 2014, he left this life to join Vertex, in continued pursuit of his translational vision.

Born in upstate New York, David moved to the Boston area when he was a toddler and hasn’t looked back (nor beyond the 617).  The son of a professor and an educator, David was inherently scholarly, attending MIT where he first experienced research in the lab of gene therapy pioneer Richard Mulligan, on the legendary third floor of the Whitehead Institute.

David saw enough of research to convince himself he wanted to pursue clinical medicine, and then, while in medical school at Harvard, he saw enough to convince himself he wanted to pursue biomedical research as well, so he pursued a joint MD/PhD.  His PhD research resulted in what he describes as an exciting scientific result that didn’t fit neatly in an established framework, so it received scant attention – an observation that led to a fascinating conversation about incremental vs disruptive research on the podcast, and inspired this blog post from Lisa.

Ultimately, David found his passion and his calling in human genetics, working initially for and then subsequently in partnership with legendary scientist Eric Lander, with whom David helped co-found the transformational Broad Institute, and served as Deputy Director.  Interestingly this decision in the mid 1990’s to work on the human genetics of polygenic, common diseases (vs monogenic, rare diseases, say) was viewed by many well-intended mentors as committing “career suicide.”  Good thing he persisted.

More recently, David made another brave decision, leaving a comfortable and distinguished academic career to become a senior pharma R&D executive, serving as Executive VP of R&D at Vertex.  We are so thrilled not only that David joined us on today’s show, but that he was so generous about sharing the complexities and uncertainties of his journey, and the key choices along the way.  We’re sure you will be captivated as well!

This podcast is sponsored by Manatt Health—a multi-disciplinary professional services firm that includes a full service law firm and a broad-based strategic business and policy consulting practice to help our clients grow and prosper.  Manatt Health supports the full range of stakeholders in transforming America’s healthcare system.

Podcast Notes:

The captivating book about the scientific process David references is Discovering, by Robert Root-Bernstein, available from Amazon here.

Luke Timmerman “Long Run” interview with Janelle Anderson, discussed on podcast, here.

David’s Forbes piece on cell engineering, focusing on company Janelle helped found; here.

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Posted in: Audio Podcast, Healthcare, Tech Tonics, Technology