Mark Dresser UCSF Graduate Division

He began this daily routine after he turned 40 and decided to take better care of himself. While committed to his own health, he is also working to improve the health of countless others by developing new therapeutics for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

[My UCSF mentor] taught me science, but also perseverance, leadership, optimism, and how to establish working collaborations.


With no family members in technical professions, Dresser didn’t have science on his radar until he got to high school. “I had great teachers who opened my eyes to the wonderful worlds of math and science,” he says.

While earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he had one of the best experiences of his life: a year working in a lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. That sojourn also introduced Dresser to UCSF, since a colleague there was heading to UCSF for a postdoc.

Working relationships

“UCSF seemed like the perfect match for me because I wanted to focus more on medical research,” he says, motivated by his mother’s diagnosis with an autoimmune disease and a cousin’s early-onset Alzheimer’s.

He remains closely connected to UCSF and to his mentor, Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, co-director of the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation. “She taught me science,” he says, “but also perseverance, leadership, optimism, and how to establish working collaborations.” During his UCSF years, Dresser also met his husband, John-Christopher Thomas.

Career leap

A year ago, after a long stint as director of oncology clinical pharmacology at Genentech, Dresser joined Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. His role is to find effective, efficient solutions to technical challenges in the company’s approaches to treating these formidable diseases. Dresser says that the next five to 10 years could be transformative.

“My passion for science has never diminished,” he says. “I absolutely love what I do, and I learn something new every day – sometimes 10 things.”

On a role

Dresser also serves as a mentor, especially to young LGBT scientists. “I knew no openly gay people in science as role models,” he says. “Now that I’m in a leadership position, I feel it’s important to show younger people that they can be openly gay and successful in science.”

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