Paying it Forward: Bequest to Support MD/PhD Program Honors Couple’s Commitment to Duke and Education

Susan Markel-Fox and Jonathan Fox
Suzanne Markel-Fox, PhD, and Jonathan C. Fox, MD, PhD, FACC

Suzanne Markel-Fox, PhD, and Jonathan C. Fox, MD, PhD, FACC, are committed to nurturing growth in just about everything they do, from tending vegetables to developing new cardiovascular and metabolic medicines and training the next generation of physician scientists.

Markel-Fox, who retired from her role as director of global clinical safety and pharmacovigilance at GlaxoSmithKline, uses her data skills to track and support the progress of the olive trees and vegetables she tends on the couple’s farm in Sonoma County, California. She applies the same energy as a local community leader, having established a Firewise Community (according to the requirements of the National Fire Prevention Association) over an area of 2,700 acres of rural property.

Fox is a founding senior executive of the biopharmaceutical company BridgeBio Pharma, dedicated to the discovery, development, and delivery of treatments for rare genetic diseases, where he serves as president and chief medical officer for cardiovascular and renal diseases.

Recently, the couple established a generous bequest to support Duke University School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program, where students earn both MD and PhD degrees in a curriculum that integrates a first-class medical education with rigorous doctoral-level scientific training.

Fox is grateful for his postgraduate training in internal medicine and cardiology at Duke, which was a critical inflection point in his career development.

“Duke let me achieve my goal of learning how to take good care of very sick people so that I could turn most of my attention to basic science work,” he said. “When I reached the point in my career where we could start to dabble in philanthropy, it was an obvious choice to help those in their early career at Duke who want to approach life as physician scientists.”

The catalyst for the bequest was a visit to Duke where Fox met one-on-one with a half dozen new faculty members.

“I was inspired by their bubbling enthusiasm and novel ideas,” he recalled. “The Duke environment allows early-career faculty to express themselves creatively in the realm of medical science. Exemplary resources include the facilities, the well-established faculty who advise and support, and the clinical care environment with numerous opportunities for clinical research.”

Duke played an important role in opening doors for Fox’s career, which included another five years in academic medicine as basic science faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, where he pursued his interests as a scientific researcher at the bench and a clinical cardiologist involved in both critical care and consultative cardiology. His next step was in industry, where he made important contributions to the development and marketed use of a number of widely prescribed cardiovascular and metabolic medicines.

“Jonathan Fox exemplifies the ideal of the medical scientist, with his commitment to caring for patients and creating new pathways for healing,” said Mary E. Klotman, MD, executive vice president for health affairs at Duke University and dean of Duke University School of Medicine. “We are grateful to him for his leadership in cardiac care and research and his generosity to our school.”

More recently, Fox transitioned to biotech, first as the founding chief medical officer at MyoKardia, where he initiated development of the drug Camzyos for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and then at BridgeBio. He helped build both companies from the startup phase, with a consistent focus on rare genetic diseases and related disorders.

“I was introduced to the idea that by developing a therapeutic drug, I could indulge my scientific interests and create something that could help a lot of people,” he said. “One person’s year of effort of working in pharmaceuticals, in terms of its impact on public health and societal wellbeing, is enormous.”

That impact was seen last summer when BridgeBio Pharma reported positive phase 3 trial results of acoramidis, a drug to treat patients with transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy, a specific cause of heart failure. The company filed a new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2023 and the European Medicines Agency in January.

The couple, who share a lifelong commitment to education and learning, are grateful to have the ability to support causes they care about, including Duke MD/PhD students. “While I haven't always been active as a (Duke) alum or donor, I got to a point where I realized that I owe the university a lot for what I've accomplished and that I can still do more,” said Fox. “This debt of gratitude and desire to pay it forward prompted our planned gift.”

The couple believe that there is no such thing as too small a contribution. “I hope to inspire others to do what they can to help Duke trainees financially,” said Fox. “It’s never too late to think, ‘What has Duke done for me that I can do for the next generation?’”

By Michele Lynn
June 28, 2024