Dr. David Brenner, M.D. has a long history of leading, founding and collaborating top research institutes in San Diego.
In addition to serving as vice chancellor for Health Services at UC San Diego for the last 15 years where he guided nearly $2 billion in expansions that included the opening of the Jacobs Medical Center and the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Brenner was instrumental in starting the Institute for Engineering in Medicine, the Institute for Genomic Medicine, the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, the UC San Diego Sanford Clinical Stem Cell Program and the C3 Cancer Center Consortium.
On Sept. 14, Brenner stepped into a new role in the San Diego research ecosystem as president and CEO of Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) – a role he said his resume has especially prepared him for.
“I’ve been [in San Diego] long enough in enough positions, I pretty much know everyone,” he said. “I really think that I can look at the big picture and see how we can advance science not only at Sanford Burnham Prebys in particular, but overall, how we can collaborate and do exciting things as a group. I take these positions not for me personally, I take these positions because I think I can make a difference.”
Brenner pointed out that San Diego is unique as a region in that all the institutes are highly collaborative with each bringing something unique, including SBP.
“Sanford Burnham Prebys has a unique niche in the biomedical sciences ecology of the region. It’s the institute that really pushes to translate basic biology into improving human health,” he said. “The thing that is so much fun about Sanford Burnham Prebys is that’s it’s highly collaborative. You can put together groups of people to work on different projects just because they’re interested. There’s no siloing of the departments – everyone works with everyone to put together proposals and projects.”
Brenner earned his M.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine. He was chief of gastroenterology at the University of North Carolina and chair of medicine at Columbia University, before joining UC San Diego in 2007. His professional memberships include the National Academy of Medicine, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians (of which he is a past president), and an NIH National Council. He has also served as a Pew scholar and as a clinical investigator in the Veteran Affairs system.
Brenner succeeds Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., who announced her intention to step down as president in January after serving in the role for the past 12 years. Vuori will continue as professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys NCI-designated Cancer Center. Brenner is assuming the role of CEO from C. Randal Mills, Ph.D., who left the Institute earlier this year.
James C. Blair, chairman of Sanford Burnham Prebys’ board of trustees, said the board is “thrilled” to have someone with Brenner’s experience lead SBP.
“David is a highly respected physician-scientist with tremendous administrative and fundraising experience,” he said. “He is the ideal candidate to grow the Institute into an even greater, more successful scientific enterprise dedicated to research that can improve human health.”
Brenner said one of his main focuses as CEO of SBP will be to recruit additional faculty.
“To me that’s really fun, to bring amazing people to San Diego from all over the world to look at how they’ll fit into the institute, look what they’ll bring to the community,” he said, adding that recruiting will allow SBP a chance to look at programs and areas of biomedical research to invest in. “This is good time for us because there are resources; there is space; there is an opportunity to improve.”
One opportunity Brenner wants to take is adopting more data-driven approaches to the research at SBP by bringing in more “computational biologists.”
“There was a real tipping point a couple of years ago in biomedical research. It used to be very qualitative,” he said. “Now, because of next generation sequencing, all the types of omics, they generate terabytes of data every couple days. To analyze that, it takes a completely different skill set.”
Brenner also said he plans on bolstering the skill sets that SBP is already known for excelling at, such as cancer biology.
“There’s a strong history of cancer biology at Sanford Burnham Prebys. That is really one of the great programs and it’s one of the very few NCI-designated Basic Cancer Centers,” he said.
In addition to leading SBP as CEO, Brenner also plans to continue his own research. He is known as a leader in the field of liver research and will continue his work on fibrotic liver disease and liver cancer, using this as the foundation for preventing and treating liver disease.
Brenner also said he is excited to work at SBP because it has the “best high throughput drug screening facility in academics in the United States.”
True to his collaborative ethos, Brenner said his overall goal in his new role at SBP is to bring San Diego to the forefront of biomedical research and out-compete Boston and the Bay Area for the “most exciting projects” and “big philanthropic commitments.”
CEO: Dr. David Brenner, M.D.
Headquarters: San Diego, La Jolla
Business: Medical research institute
Revenue: $109.5 million (2021)
Employees: Over 500
Notable: Sanford Burnham Prebys is home to one of only seven National Cancer Institute- designated Basic Laboratory Cancer Centers in the U.S.