Christine Dieckhaus Fandozzi was recently recognized by La Salle University for her contributions to health care-related research with the Holroyd Award. The Holroyd Award is presented to an alum who has made significant contributions to health care consistent with the philosophy of La Salle University.
Fandozzi spoke about how her La Salle science education impacted her life and career. “There was a strong education in the basic curriculum and enthusiasm for science,” said Fandozzi, who graduated from La Salle in 1996. She recalled the infectious enthusiasm of Dr. Tom Straub running through the halls with household bleach to use in an experiment and Dr. William Price “more anxious than a kid on Christmas” awaiting the arrival of a new instrument.
“But beyond curriculum there were collaborative students and teachers who helped developed my entire person,” Fandozzi reflected. “I am quite confident that I wouldn’t be where I am today, truly happy with both my career and my family, if it weren’t for Dr. Nancy Jones.” Fandozzi shared stories of how Dr. Jones encouraged a career in science and allowed her to realize that career choices weren’t at odds with a meaningful family life. Fandozzi shared, “Thinking back on decisions, such as completing my doctorate degree in Chemistry, makes me realize that those decisions were essential to the growth of my entire person, far beyond curriculum and far beyond the constrained four years of an undergraduate program.” She cited that, consistent with La Salle’s Mission Statement, “Dr. Jones prepared me for meeting the immediate and, God-willing, the final goals of my life.”
Fandozzi’s accomplishments include being the named inventor on three drug molecule patents, the author of numerous scientific publications, and being a critical player in bringing several compounds into clinical trials. She helped to discover two hepatitis C (HCV) drugs, MK-5172 and Vaniprevir, which are in late stage clinical trials intended to cure HCV.
“In our lifetime, HCV will become a curable disease. Until now, HCV often resulted in liver failure and death. Having that sort of impact on human health is huge,” she said.
Uncertain of her career path when she entered La Salle, Fandozzi explained how a summer lab position at Fox Chase Cancer Center was “the most eye-opening and career-determining” experience of her life. “Fox Chase taught me that I wanted to be a scientist and pursue a dream of bringing novel therapies to patients in need,” she said.
When Fandozzi learned she would receive the award, “The first thought that came to mind is that I am humbled because I don’t think I’ve yet had the impact on human health and patients’ lives that I’d like to realize. My fingers are crossed for some of the HCV compounds, but research and development (R&D) is an extremely risky business and failures far outweigh the successes. Working in pharmaceutical R&D means that you have to be comfortable with failure without ever giving up the dream of changing someone’s life.”
“It is an honor to be recognized in celebration of Dr. Holroyd ‘the good doctor’ who dedicated his life to preparing students to impact human health in the tradition of the La Sallian values.”
In the context of Lasallian values, Fandozzi also commented on the positive attributes of a Catholic education. “Coming from a Catholic education has taught me to treat all people with dignity and respect. In the pharmaceutical industry, we are challenged everyday with the ethics of defining margins between patient safety and efficacy. For me the basic underpinnings in addressing these questions are always rooted in solid ethics founded in strong religion,” she said.
Fandozzi is an Associate Director in the Department of Pharmacokinetics, Pharmacodynamics and Drug Metabolism at Merck, West Point, Pa.
As for the “meaningful family life,” Fandozzi said, “at home I’m blessed with an awesome husband and two terrific boys.”