Loomis Chaffee Trustee Courtney Ackeifi ’06 gave a presentation to Loomis students on Wednesday, November 11, about her education and career in the biomedical sector and her experience discovering and delivering new medical therapies to market.
More than 30 students and faculty members joined the videoconference of Courtney’s presentation, “From Discovery to Drugstore.” The event was organized by Science Department Head Neil Chaudhary ’05, who was a contemporary of Courtney’s at Loomis.
“My interest has been to use science as a tool to improve human life,” Courtney said. That interest led her to advanced study of disease pathophysiology and a career in drug therapy research and development.
When she was a student at Loomis, Courtney took science classes in microbiology and molecular biology, a choice she made based on Neil’s recommendation.
“I loved the hands-on nature of the class and how we got to DO science,” she said, adding that she foresaw herself working in that field someday.
After Loomis, Courtney earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and music from Wellesley College, where she conducted scientific research in endocrinology. From there, she studied neurodegenerative diseases as a research assistant at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, worked at the biotechnology company Biogen, studied human models of diabetes and intellectual property in pursuit of her doctorate degree at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine, and now works on post-market strategies for pharmaceutical and biotech companies as associate director of medical and scientific affairs at Synapse, a medical marketing agency. She works and lives in New York City.
To illustrate her scientific research, Courtney presented a timeline of the long, expensive, phases required for new drug development, from the initial research stage — often riddled with failure along the way, she said — to approval as well as the necessary safety surveillance phase after a drug’s use in human populations has begun.
She spoke about her experience researching neurogenerative disease at Harvard and explained why stem cells, which can be transformed into other types of cells, are especially useful in the study of medical therapies for humans. In addition, Courtney touched on what she learned at Harvard about partnerships for scientific progress.
Courtney also shared the findings from her doctoral thesis, which focused on diabetes and obesity, in Mt. Sinai’s biophysics and systems pharmacology program.
According to Courtney, her work in academic labs and different types of companies and institutions has influenced how she thinks about solving scientific problems. Her study and training in science helps her apply basic biological principles to medical areas not directly related to her research work and has taught her how to organize and think critically about all sorts of data, she said.
A belief in the ability for science to help people with a diversity of perspectives take an interdisciplinary approach to the challenges of our time continues to inspire her, Courtney said.
“I want to be a part of moving this type of science forward,” she affirmed.
After her presentation, Courtney answered students’ questions about stem cell research, and her work in diabetes research, the courses she most enjoyed at Loomis, and what she thinks about a COVID-19 vaccine.