Kortemme named new vice dean of research

Tanja Kortemme, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS), a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, has been appointed as the School’s vice dean of research, effective October 1, 2023. She succeeds James Fraser, PhD, who was named chair of BTS August 1, 2023.

An expert in computational biology and protein engineering, Kortemme was named an inaugural Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigator in 2017 (and renewed in 2022), and in 2019 she was inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows. In her new role, she says she expects to be as deeply involved in science as she has been since starting her independent laboratory at UCSF in 2004.

Kortemme, who completed her PhD in Germany and conducted postdoctoral work in Germany, Canada, and the United States, was awarded the Sloan Research Fellowship in 2005, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award in 2008, and the W.M. Keck Foundational Medical Research Award in 2013.

“She is respected by senior computational colleagues and supports all young scientists with her enthusiasm and mentorship,” said Dean Kathy Giacomini, PhD, BSPharm. “She also has secured major funding for her important contributions and large-scale collaborative proposals. Her research is characterized by innovation and creativity.”

“Some of the most exciting discoveries in science happen at the intersection of disciplines,” Kortemme said. “UCSF pioneers in that area, fostering a community of people who value collaboration, integrating experimental and computational research, innovating in science at all scales—from molecules to cells and systems to health and populations.”

Kortemme said she is excited to think about how to continue fostering collaboration at all these different scales, bringing discovery science together with clinical viewpoints. Explaining the practical importance of engineered biological systems, she added, “We can now generate new proteins from scratch as precision tools to manipulate biological systems and build complex and emerging behaviors.”

Strengthening UCSF’s culture of collaboration

Looking ahead, Kortemme speaks of “new opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI), as applied to many areas of science that connect well with the School of Pharmacy’s long-standing strength with innovations in computational science.”

“Ultimately, the most important advances in AI are based on data—large-scale and informative data that can be used to train generalizable models,” she said, pointing to the School’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) as an exceptional model of how UCSF embodies the values of innovation and collaboration “not only within the school and UCSF but also around the world.”

She cautioned that AI can’t happen in a vacuum, without large and informative data sets, and credited UCSF for having a strong culture of collaboration, placing value on what different people of different perspectives can bring to addressing important scientific problems.

Driving innovation through curiosity

Kortemme said she thinks of students and postdocs as colleagues when it comes to identifying the most important problems to work on in the lab and developing new approaches to address those problems.

“I care deeply about the research and the people who do the research. The students and postdocs are critically important to driving innovation at UCSF,” Kortemme said. “And I view [the new role] very much as an addition to what I do, not changing the science that I do in my lab.” The Kortemme Lab uses prediction and engineering to address fundamental questions on the relationship of molecular mechanisms and systems-level function.

Kortemme also acknowledged the challenges students face when it comes to being their most innovative and creative in an academic environment. “But also there are opportunities if we can support students who are independent, at the forefront of science and innovation.”

She said that among her priorities in the vice dean role will be finding ways to bolster students financially and to encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship.

“It’s very exciting to see how projects that started with fundamental curiosity are beginning to be translated inside of companies,” she said. “That’s what I’ve seen from the work that happens in our lab and all around us.”


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, QBC

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.