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Donna Ambrosino ’77: Patient Driven

By Lauren Ware

“Ever since graduating from medical school, I’ve tried to live by the following principle: ‘It’s all about the patient,’” says Donna Ambrosino, MD, who is married to fellow Geisel alum Howard Martin ’79. Early in her career, that meant focusing on the needs of the patients she cared for directly; now she works to improve care for patients around the world by developing new medicines with the potential to affect thousands of patients’ lives.

Donna Ambrosino, MD, '77, Chief Medical Officer at ClearPath Vaccines Company
Donna Ambrosino, MD, '77, Chief Medical Officer at ClearPath Vaccines Company

During her fellowship training, Ambrosino cared for both adult and pediatric patients with infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she also did bench research. The experience of providing direct patient care and conducting research ultimately inspired her to pursue a career with a more global focus.

After 19 years on the Harvard faculty, she became the chief executive officer of MassBiologics, a nonprofit that can take new medicines from the discovery stage, through licensing, and all the way to market—and the only nonprofit FDA-licensed vaccine and biologic manufacturer in the U.S.

“The fact that one could come up with an idea that could potentially impact thousands of patients and see the whole process through—that was a big change from working in academia,” says Ambrosino. “That really appealed to me.”

Ambrosino led the company’s expansion from 180 employees to over 400, recruiting scientific staff and building new manufacturing and research facilities. Ambrosino is also credited with shifting the company’s focus to developing monoclonal antibody treatments for infectious diseases. In July, Ambrosino became chief medical officer at ClearPath Vaccines Company, where she identifies and evaluates new potential vaccines.

Her ongoing interest in global health and infectious diseases has also brought her back to her alma mater, where she serves on the board of advisors for the Geisel School’s Center for Health Equity. The experiences one has during training affects how one practices medicine, she explains, which is why she supports the center’s efforts to facilitate student experiences in resource-poor communities.

“My daughter spent a month in India as a medical student in a large public hospital with limited access to technology,” says Ambrosino. “Now, as a fellow at Mass General Hospital, she often thinks twice before she orders a long list of tests as a substitute for a careful physical exam and complete history.”

That’s music to Ambrosino’s ears, as a mother and a physician. “It’s all about the patient,” she repeats—whether “the patient” is right in front of you or one of thousands around the world who will benefit from a new treatment.