UCSF

Kroetz named next chair of Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences

When Deanna Kroetz, PhD, first encountered the pharmaceutical sciences in the 1980s as a student, her career path was uncertain. As she bounced from caring for patients as an intern in a hospital pharmacy to studying pharmacology as a research assistant in a laboratory, one question kept gnawing at her: why do people respond so differently to the same medications?

Today, Kroetz, a faculty member in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, is an expert in pharmacogenomics, a field that uses human genetics to understand why certain drugs can have particularly beneficial or detrimental effects on certain patients.

Yet Kroetz can also be found training future pharmacists in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, unifying the scientist’s discovery-oriented mindset with the clinician’s bent for patient care.

On October 1, 2021, Kroetz will assume the chairship of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS), a joint department of the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. She will be the department’s seventh chair, succeeding current chair Tejal Desai, PhD, who is stepping down after seven years.

“Deanna is a committed mentor who has a wealth of experience working across disciplines and across the university,” said Desai. “I am grateful for her support over the past several years and look forward to her leadership of BTS.”

Kroetz joins Michelle Arkin, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Lisa Kroon, PharmD, chair of the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, as the respective leaders of the School of Pharmacy’s three academic departments.

“Deanna’s consistent contributions to the School’s educational and scientific communities have been impactful beyond words,” said School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, who oversaw her selection as BTS chair. “I am delighted to welcome her as the newest member of our leadership group.”

Unraveling molecular mysteries with the patient in mind

Kroetz was first exposed to questions about the variation in patients’ responses to drugs as a pharmacy student at Ohio State University. Her skill using animal models to investigate pharmacokinetics—how medications move throughout the body—led her mentors to encourage her to pursue research at the graduate level, a challenge she happily took on.

As a pharmaceutics PhD student at the University of Washington, Kroetz veered from studying pharmacokinetics in humans to investigating the molecular roots of these drug responses in the lab. Today, her work puts her at the nexus of genomics, structural biology (the study of the shapes of biological molecules), and pharmacology.

“All of the things that I’m interested in are related to the same question: how do we better use drugs?” said Kroetz. “Our current focus is chemotherapy toxicity, why some patients fare worse than others on the same drugs, and what molecular interactions cause this. Our goal is to eventually see our laboratory discoveries applied back to the clinic, to help people.”

The UCSF School of Pharmacy is Kroetz’s third pharmacy school—in fact, all of her training and career have occurred in schools in pharmacy, she said, making her “unique to most of our faculty.” She is equally at ease discussing protein structures as she is conversing about the relative merits of different drug therapies.

This perspective enabled her to play a critical role in the recent revamping of the School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree curriculum, which graduated its first class this spring. Kroetz put particular effort into integrating pharmacokinetics throughout the new curriculum, emphasizing the scientific ways of thinking that would carry students through long careers in an ever-changing biomedical landscape.

“Deanna always makes it a point to greet our first year pharmacy students at their breakfasts during orientation,” said Guglielmo. “It makes a big impression on them to see a laboratory scientist working so closely with our clinical faculty to deliver a balanced, scientifically-grounded education in pharmacy.”

A track record of leadership

As Kroetz assumes her new role at the helm of BTS, she brings a wealth of experience working not only across disciplines but also with scientists and clinicians at all stages of their careers, from student to faculty member.

Kroetz directed the PhD degree program in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics (PSPG) for over ten years, which offers training in the pharmaceutical sciences, drug development, and pharmacogenomics. The program draws on the expertise of faculty members “from genetics to bioengineering and from medicine to mathematics,” both for delivering coursework and for mentoring of students in a wide array of laboratories.

In recent years, Kroetz was the inaugural recipient of the Jere E. Goyan Presidential Chair, given in honor of one of the School’s most esteemed former deans who also served as a commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She was also named a distinguished alumnus for the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, her PhD alma mater.

In service to her fellow faculty members, Kroetz has chaired the faculty council for the School of Pharmacy and served on the internal advisory committee for BTS. Her commitment to the School community, from top to bottom, will serve her well as BTS chair, according to Guglielmo.

“Now is a great time to loop more of our science faculty into the new [PharmD] curriculum, having worked through its roll-out in the last few years,” said Kroetz. “My colleagues are excited to bring their scientific passions to our pharmacy students, and I’m ready to show them where their science can fit into a well-rounded education in pharmacy.”

Kroetz envisions building stronger ties between faculty members in BTS and their School colleagues in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Clinical Pharmacy, and the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), an organized research unit in the School.

Her varied career and wide reach across School activities are sure to serve as models as she works toward these goals for the department. Guglielmo is excited to see how she leverages her new role to “lift all boats” in pursuit of better science and better patient care.

“There are very few people who understand the importance of a job like the one she’s taking,” said Guglielmo. “I can’t wait to see where she takes the department in the coming years.”


About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.