UCSF Names First-Ever Chief Genomics Officer

Precision Medicine Leader to Oversee Clinical Genomics Across UCSF Health

By Nicholas Weiler

Aleksandar Rajkovic
Aleksandar Rajkovic, MD, PhD

In a move that underscores the increasingly important role of genomics in medicine, UC San Francisco has appointed Aleksandar Rajkovic, MD, PhD, as the first Chief Genomics Officer (CGO) of UCSF Health. His appointment, which follows a national search, is effective May 1.

In this role, Rajkovic, previously of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, will direct the activities of UCSF’s existing clinical genomics laboratories and work together with campus leadership to organize the clinical genetics and genomics services across the health system.

As CGO, Rajkovic will report to Josh Adler, MD, executive vice president of UCSF Health. He will have a joint academic appointment as a UCSF professor in the departments of Pathology and of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and will serve as the Stuart Lindsay Distinguished Professor in Experimental Pathology.

The CGO’s first priorities will include understanding the needs of various departments and patient populations for genomic services across the system, particularly as they relate to genetic testing services, said Adler. Toward that end, he will collaborate closely with UCSF genetics leadership in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland, the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and adult clinical services offered through UCSF Health to identify critical needs and opportunities for growth and partnerships.

“The creation of this new role – one of the first such positions in the world – marks an advance in genomic medicine within our health system,” Adler said. “UCSF has been at the forefront of the precision medicine movement for over a decade. We have the utmost confidence that Dr. Rajkovic is the right leader to guide UCSF Health into the next era of genomic medicine.”

Applying Genetics and Genomics to Clinical Care

Rajkovic will partner with campus leadership to build a strong clinical genetics enterprise. In collaboration with the faculty in the Division of Medical Genetics and other physicians on campus, Rajkovic will lead efforts to apply genetics and genomics to clinical care within the health system. He will be a member of the Institute for Human Genetics, UCSF’s central hub for cutting-edge human genetics research, education and training, and will work to bolster the IHG’s mission to provide advanced clinical training and a fruitful environment for research in genetics and genomics across UCSF as a whole.

According to Ophir Klein, MD, PhD, the Charles J. Epstein Professor of Human Genetics and chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at UCSF, “We are looking forward to a close interaction between Dr. Rajkovic and our clinical genetics faculty members in Pediatrics, Obstetrics, Internal Medicine and the Cancer Center, as well as with our colleagues working on genetic diseases in other departments. Having a clinical geneticist embedded within the health system leadership will be an important step forward in terms of integrating genetics and genomics into the medical care of all patients at UCSF. As we continue to grow the number of clinical geneticists at UCSF, Dr. Rajkovic will provide a strong bridge between the health system and our Division of Medical Genetics.”

Rajkovic was previously the Marcus Allen Hogge Chair in Reproductive Sciences and director of reproductive genetics at the Magee-Womens Hospital at UPMC. He is an expert in the genetics of fertility and reproduction and has coordinated the university’s programs in clinical genetics for the past decade.

“Dr. Rajkovic brings extensive experience in the clinical application of genetic and genomic testing. This new post will bring together efforts in this area throughout UCSF Health and is an example of our commitment to bringing innovation to patients as quickly as possible,” said Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, president of the UCSF Cancer Center and senior vice president for UCSF Health cancer services, who was a member of the search committee that tapped Rajkovic for the CGO position.

A Voice for Genetic Medicine at UCSF Health

The position of CGO was envisioned as a way to integrate and coordinate the strong clinical genetics services that now exist across the UCSF enterprise, said Mary Norton, MD, the David E. Thorburn, MD and Kate McKee Thorburn Endowed Chair in Perinatal Medicine and Genetics at UCSF and co-chair of the CGO search committee.

Bryce Mendelsohn talks to patients in the Preventive Genomics Clinic
Bryce Mendelsohn (right), MD, PhD, is co-leading UCSF Health's new Preventive Genomics Clinic. Photo by Majed Abolfazli

“Genetic testing is changing rapidly,” said Norton, who specializes in prenatal detection and diagnosis of birth defects and genetic disease and is co-director of the Center for Maternal-Fetal Precision Medicine at UCSF. “There has been a growing recognition, both from clinicians and leadership, that we needed someone who could set institution-wide priorities and integrate the many excellent genetics services on campus – avoiding duplication of effort among different groups and identifying ways for all of us to collaborate more effectively and efficiently.”

Bringing on Rajkovic is a key step in hastening access to the benefits of precision medicine for UCSF Health patients, said Institute for Human Genetics director Neil Risch, PhD, who co-chaired the search committee with Norton.

“UCSF has long been a key driver of the precision medicine movement internationally,” said Risch, who is Lamond Family Foundation Distinguished Professor in Human Genetics at UCSF. “We’re now in a position to move from talking about it as a theoretical opportunity to looking at real-world, practical implementation in the clinic. But to do that, we needed someone who could be both an architect and an advocate for clinical genomics services and testing across UCSF.”

We’re now in a position to move from talking about it as a theoretical opportunity to looking at real-world, practical implementation in the clinic. But to do that, we needed someone who could be both an architect and an advocate for clinical genomics services and testing across UCSF.

Neil Risch, PhD

Co-Chair, Search Committee

Rajkovic’s unique mix of research expertise, clinical genetics experience, and practical business acumen – including a focus on making clinical genetic testing financially viable for patients and providers – made him stand out as a strong candidate for the role of CGO, members of the search committee said.

Atul Butte, PhD, who is Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor at UCSF and directs the Institute for Computational Health Sciences, a hub for precision medicine research on campus, echoed the excitement felt across UCSF about moving towards clinical application of precision medicine: “Precision medicine is not just a ‘nice idea’ at UCSF – it is benefitting real people, from cancer patients with unusual tumor mutations to children with undiagnosed genetic diseases. Now, with Aleks’ leadership, UCSF can take its dedication to genomic medicine to the next level.”

Centralizing and Streamlining Clinical Genetic Testing

Rajkovic said he was attracted to the opportunity to unify UCSF’s many innovative research and clinical genetics programs into a more streamlined clinical genetics service, and by the university’s dedication to building the next stage of genomic medicine.

“UCSF is an incredibly exciting place, with cutting-edge research, education and patient care,” Rajkovic said. “I was impressed to see that UCSF Health leadership was conscious of the need for someone to organize and centralize its excellent existing genetics services and coordinate communication about needs and opportunities for genomic medicine across the institution.”

Among his first tasks as CGO, Rajkovic says, he is most excited to get to know the many members of the UCSF community driving the University’s innovation in research and clinical genetics and to begin identifying opportunities to standardize clinical genetics practices and make genetic testing available more broadly throughout UCSF Health.

“My first priorities,” he said, “are to make sure I understand the needs of various departments for genomic services across the system and to make it easy for any of our physicians to have access to UCSF’s leading clinical genetics services.”

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