1/7/2015 Philadelphia, PA – Dr. David Fajgenbaum, MD, MSc, co-Founder & Executive Director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN) and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine in the division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, was named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in healthcare. Dr. Fajgenbaum is a physician-researcher-entrepreneur that has repeatedly used personal adversity as motivation to create groundbreaking initiatives that overcome serious problems. In parallel to his full-time work on these initiatives, he has also completed a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Oxford, an MD at the University of Pennsylvania, and the first year of an MBA at the Wharton School.
During medical school, Fajgenbaum was diagnosed with multicentric Castleman disease (MCD), a deadly hematologic illness that involves uncontrolled immune activation and multiple organ dysfunction. He spent five months hospitalized and had his last rites read to him after the standard chemotherapeutic agents failed. Fajgenbaum survived, but—with no FDA-approved therapies, several hurdles in the way of progress, and a 35% five-year mortality rate for the thousands of patients diagnosed annually in the US—he returned to medical school in 2011 on a mission.
Fajgenbaum co-founded the CDCN to accelerate the pace of research and drug development for MCD in 2012 and published research in 2014 in the leading hematology journal, Blood, that initiated a paradigm shift in the previous model of pathogenesis and established a new classification system. He recently finalized plans for a natural history study, which will gather clinical data and tissue samples from around the world; he will lead the study as Principal Investigator.
Under Fajgenbaum’s leadership as Executive Director, the CDCN has taken a first-of-its kind approach to overcome hurdles that exist for drug development for MCD and many other diseases, such as limited collaboration and opportunities for communication between researchers; the lack of an overarching translational research strategy; multiple classification systems and research priorities; and a myopia on publications rather than on extending lives. Fajgenbaum combined his public health perspective, medical training, and previous nonprofit experience to create a new model that focuses on global collaboration among physicians and researchers; strategic investments in consensus-determined high-impact research; connecting industry, academia, physicians, researchers, and patients; and driving forward research that improves patient-centered outcomes.
In just two years, the CDCN has connected the global community through the three largest-ever MCD research meetings and an online discussion board; assembled a 16-member leadership team of patients, MD, MBA, and PhD students and a 23-member Scientific Advisory Board of international experts; built a database of over 200 physicians and researchers; created and initiated execution of an International Research Agenda; established a partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals; and engaged patients throughout the entire process. The top three projects on the International Research Agenda have the potential to solve the etiology of the disease and inform the development of new therapies. Fajgenbaum also served as a member of Janssen Pharmaceutical’s “Global Advisory Board” for Siltuximab, which became the first FDA-approved therapy for MCD in 2014. Fajgenbaum is now also focused on applying his proven model to accelerate research and therapies for other deadly illnesses.
Much of Fajgenbaum’s success with building the CDCN has been informed by his creation of another groundbreaking initiative in response to another challenging experience. Fajgenbaum’s mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and died during his sophomore year of college. No supportive resources existed on college campuses at the time, and Fajgenbaum promised his mother two weeks before she died that he would create something in her memory to help other grieving students. He returned to Georgetown’s campus on a mission, started a campus group that spread to dozens of other campuses, and co-founded National Students of AMF, which stands for “Actively Moving Forward” and his mother’s initials, “Anne Marie Fajgenbaum.” As Executive Director, he grew the national network to reach 3,000+ grieving college students on 200+ college campuses and elevated college student grief to become a recognized issue in higher education. His work has been highlighted on the Today Show, Reader’s Digest, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Click here for a video about the organization. He has co-authored a book for grieving college students, and he is currently under contract with Jessica Kingsley Publishers to publish the book in 2015.
In Fajgenbaum’s first 29 years, his work has disrupted the way thousands of college students experience and overcome grief; improved the research system for MCD, which will hopefully improve outcomes for thousands of MCD patients; and created a proven model for many other diseases to follow. In his next 29 years, Fajgenbaum has his sights set on changing the entire biomedical research and drug development system to accelerate life-saving discoveries.