David A. Kessler, MD, dean of Yale School of Medicine, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and one of the nation’s leading public health advocates, today was named dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD, announced the appointment.
The appointment of Kessler, 52, is effective as of September. He succeeds Haile T. Debas, MD, current dean and vice chancellor for medical affairs. Debas is retiring after 16 years of leadership at UCSF, six years as chair of the Department of Surgery, and ten years as dean—one of which he served simultaneously as chancellor. Debas announced his plan to retire last June.
“UCSF is the most dynamic place in American medicine today,” said Kessler. “Over the last decade it has led the country, teaching all of us how to educate students, and how to take down the walls between departments in the basic sciences. The faculty at UCSF is the most exciting anywhere—no where have I seen such an alignment of purpose, such a focused intensity across a university.”
Kessler called UCSF Mission Bay, a second major campus now in development that will nearly double UCSF’s teaching and research space, “a striking accomplishment, unparalleled in its potential to build interdisciplinary collaboration between basic and clinical research and to integrate it with state-of-the-art medical care.”
“We’re very pleased that Dr. Kessler will be assuming leadership of the UCSF School of Medicine at this significant point in the school’s history,” said Bishop. “He is a distinguished public servant and academic leader, and I believe that his extensive experience in the leadership of both public and private institutions will serve UCSF well.”
He added, “the school has thrived under the leadership of Dr. Debas, consistently ranking as one of the top recipients of National Institutes of Health funding for research and as one of the top-ranked medical schools.”
Now, said Bishop, the school is poised to move into a new era of basic and clinical research aimed at gaining further insights into, and developing therapies for, such diseases as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Dr. Kessler has the vision, brilliance and energy to lead the school in this venture,” he said.
“The School of Medicine is fortunate to have Dr. Kessler as its next dean. His national stature and demonstrated courage in advancing the life sciences and public health are noteworthy. His record of achievements, his intelligence, vision and energy demonstrate the capacity to lead this wonderful school,” said Debas.
During his tenure at the Yale School of Medicine, which began in 1997, Kessler guided the school through a major revitalization of its academic and research programs and an expansion of its physical facilities. He recruited a new generation of senior leadership to many key departments in both the clinical and research arenas, oversaw the establishment of new basic research programs, developed a new affiliation agreement between the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale-New Haven Health System that established a joint investment in new clinical and research programs by the hospital and the school, closed the gap in disparity in women faculty’s salaries, and worked with the faculty to set up the Women’s Health Research program and the Society of Distinguished Teachers.
He also oversaw the growth and development of about one million square feet of new or renovated laboratory and clinical space. He galvanized the medical school to embark on its largest development project in 70 years, with the construction of a major new teaching and research complex, The Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education, which includes a new magnetic resonance research center. Part of Yale’s expansion also includes a new pharmacology building and significant renovations of Sterling Hall of Medicine, the school’s major research complex. He also worked with the state of Connecticut to develop a joint project to significantly expand the psychiatric research and clinical facility based at Yale. The funding for the project has been appropriated, and construction is planned to begin soon.
Kessler, Yale professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and public health, reflected passionately on his role as a mentor and teacher at Yale, citing his involvement with students who went on missions to Kosovo, India and South Africa under the auspices of the Yale Project for Health Action, and his gratification in teaching on the hospital wards as an attending pediatrician.
As commissioner of the FDA under Presidents Bush and Clinton (1990 to 1997), Kessler reinvigorated the agency, speeding up the drug-approval process in order to get promising therapies for life-threatening illnesses to patients, including those with AIDS, improving the medical-device approval process, instituting preventive controls for food safety, establishing nutrition labeling for food, establishing new safety regulations for the nation’s blood supply and developing the MEDWatch program for reporting adverse events and product problems.
He is most known during those years, however, for taking on the tobacco industry. He instituted a program to regulate the marketing and sale of tobacco products to children, and spearheaded a major investigation that led to the revelation that the tobacco companies not only had known for 50 years that nicotine was an addictive drug but that the companies had manipulated the levels of nicotine in cigarettes. He chronicled this investigation in his book “A Question of Intent,” which was published in 2001.
Before becoming commissioner of the FDA, Kessler was medical director at the Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, and a lecturer on law at Columbia University.
Kessler, who will continue to serve as an attending pediatrician, at UCSF Children’s Hospital, has published numerous articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and other medical journals.
He serves on the board of various organizations, including the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, of which he is chairman, Doctors of the World, National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Kessler’s many honors include receiving the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, in 2001, and being elected a member of the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor, the American Heart Association’s National Public Affairs Special Recognition Award, the American Federation for AIDS Research Sheldon W. Andelson Public Policy Achievement Award, and the March of Dimes Franklin Delano Roosevelt Leadership Award. He also has received 13 honorary degrees.
He has received a multitude of community and public service awards in recognition of his contribution on behalf of public health, including those from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
Born and raised in New York, Kessler received his BA degree in 1973, Phi Beta Kappa, from Amherst College. He earned his MD degree from Harvard Medical School in 1979, did his internship and medical residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, received his JD from The University of Chicago Law School in 1978, where he was a member of the Law Review, and received an Advanced Professional Certificate in Management from New York University Graduate School of Business Administration in 1986.
Kessler will settle in San Francisco with his wife, Paulette. Their two children will be attending college.
The recommendation to appoint Kessler was made to the chancellor by a search committee made up of UCSF faculty and led by Keith Yamamoto, PhD, UCSF vice dean for research and professor and chair of molecular and cellular pharmacology.
In appointing Kessler as dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, the Regents of the University of California approved a total compensation of $540,000.
UCSF is the only campus in the University of California’s 10-campus system that is devoted exclusively to the health sciences. The academic enterprise is composed of schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, as well as a graduate division.
Kessler will lead a faculty that includes 30 researchers who have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors in American science. During the last 13 years, three members of the UCSF faculty have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, two for discovering that normal genes, when mutated, can cause cancer, and one for discovering the infectious protein, known as prion, that causes rare neurodegenerative diseases in humans and animals, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease in cattle.
For additional information on UCSF School of Medicine achievements and milestones, please see: