We take this opportunity to extend our thanks and best wishes to Dr. Hyung Chun, who, after 13 years at Yale (most recently as an associate professor with tenure and co-director of the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center or YCVRC) is joining Foresite Capital, a healthcare focused venture capital firm. He will be missed, but fortunately will maintain an Adjunct Faculty appointment in Cardiovascular Medicine and remain in the New Haven area. Chun kindly spoke with us about his move. We hope his perspectives will provide insights into additional science career pathways that can impact healthcare.
The emergence of COVID-19 significantly influenced Chun. In the early days of pandemic lockdown with laboratories shut down across the campus, he found himself immersing his research focus to translational and clinical studies related to COVID-19 with a number of collaborators at Yale and other institutions. These urgent efforts with immediate clinical relevance sparked his interest in further pursuing programs with a more direct clinical impact and served as one of the main driving forces for his transition. While much of his work at the YCVRC may ultimately become key relevance to future therapies, these foundational mechanistic discoveries typically require many additional years to make a clinical impact. Through an introduction via a colleague to the founder of Foresite Capital, Dr. James Tananbaum, he first started a consulting role with the firm and has been working full-time over the past year during his leave of absence from Yale.
Venture capital firms raise funds to invest in emerging companies that they believe are promising. Foresite Capital evaluates, invests in, and advises such companies. Chun's background as a physician-scientist makes him well suited for such a role, understanding both the science and the clinical applications. In evaluating companies, Chun determines whether various therapeutic development programs, which may be in preclinical or early-stage clinical stages, are likely to be safe and effective in humans. Once the investment is made, he and other members of the team may continue provide guidance to Foresite Capital portfolio companies. To provide such direction, Chun finds himself “reading more than ever,” immersed in the literature from basic sciences to clinical trials and outcomes. Learning lessons from the successes and failures of other trials is essential to develop strategic plans to advance new therapies to clinical practice.
Chun especially enjoys the speed at which these early-stage companies are able to move therapies into the clinic, which at times can be faster than large pharmaceutical companies. Contributing to the design and conduct of clinical studies to guide them to success have been elements of his work that he has found to be extremely rewarding.
A venture capital career path requires a broad spectrum of expertise. The path to such a career may not be straight forward, and without a fortuitous introduction Chun isn’t sure if he would be in his current role today. For those interested in such a career and others outside the academia, Chun recommends keeping an open mind, getting to know scientists and researchers in companies such as large pharmaceuticals and early-stage biotech to gain a better understanding of how science operates beyond academia. “Change is always hard, especially if it involves departure from academia and an institution like Yale,” Chun said. He adds, “Sometimes change can bring new opportunities for success that may otherwise not be obvious and can be very rewarding.”
Chun has fond memories of his time at the YCVRC, especially the unique energy of the era when he was first starting his own lab, where he was running experiments, writing grants and manuscripts, and seeing patients. “When your efforts have led to a novel finding--even if in ways you least expected--these new discoveries are what continue to drive and motivate us. It’s been an incredible experience in working with the wonderful trainees and colleagues of CVRC over the past decade, and I look forward to future interactions in my new role.”
The COVID pandemic has reshaped the biomedical world, and impacted us all. Such unprecedented times have led to profound self-evaluation of our lives, goals, and priorities. Chun's many major paradigm-shifting contributions to COVID research (identifying the deleterious impact of COVID-19 on endothelial cells, and being one of the first groups to recognize breakthrough COVID-19 infections in vaccinated patients) served to shift his passion towards accelerating clinical therapeutics. His stellar academic background, broad knowledge base, cross-disciplinary experience, clinical acumen, and fearlessness, are ideal for such a position. We have no doubt he will continue to advance science and medicine in his new role with Foresite Capital.
Chun looks forward to keeping in touch with YCVRC colleagues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.