Message from Jay Feingold, MD '86, PhD '85

Jay Feingold

Outgoing Alumni Association President Jay Feingold, MD ’86 PhD ’85, on the education, training and esprit de corps that make Einstein unique – and the challenges going forward

Can you summarize your career since you graduated from Einstein?

After Einstein, I trained at the UCLA Center for the Health Sciences, first in pediatrics and then pediatric hematology and oncology. I did a post-doc in the lab of Chris Denny [Professor of Pediatrics, UCLA], who had an interest in a specific DNA translocationfrequently associated with Ewings sarcoma.

After completing my training, I went to Rush Medical School in Chicago as an attending physician in the combined adult and pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant unit, and then to the University of Connecticut, where I had my own research lab as well as attending on the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Unit and a bit of lecturing. I was also working on clinical trials with pharmaceutical companies, and eventually I made the decision to move into the industry. I first went to large pharma, Wyeth, where I spent a fantastic seven years in a variety of roles, culminating as head of worldwide development for oncology.

After Pfizer bought Wyeth, it was tough trying to get things done at a behemoth – too much red tape. So I went to Daiichi Sankyo, back in medical affairs for a while. When ADC Therapeutics called in 2014, I was more than ready to get back into oncology clinical development. ADCT was a fascinating experience, because we started that company, I was the sixth employee. and when I left, there were about 110 people reporting to me through my various groups. I went there as Chief Medical Officer and was there for exactly seven years. During that time, we filed six investigational new drug applications. We got one drug approved [Zynlonta, for adults who with certain types of large B-cell lymphoma who have already undergone other treatments], and they’ll probably get another one approved in the next year or two based on the work we did.

Then Pyxis Oncology came along, this tiny company that was just getting into the clinic, and I said, “Okay, I can do this all over again.” So now we’re building a team and getting ready to go into the clinic with our first couple of INDs.

What led you to switch from academic medicine to working in biotech?

It became clear to me that I could have a greater impact by doing drug development -- especially in oncology, which needs new drugs. We've made tremendous advances in some tumors, but almost none in others. So, there’s really a major impetus to try to be creative, to do things to help patients live longer and better lives.

Looking back at your time at Einstein, were there faculty who particularly shaped your career?

I had the good fortune, as a high school student, to work at Einstein in the summers with Bob Bases [Professor Emeritus of Oncology and Oncology Radiology, and Einstein alumnus], and he was a tremendous influence.

Wow. How did you manage that?

Well, there’s a bit of nepotism involved. Bob is my father's cousin, Every year, he he invited several high school and college students to work in his lab. I started the summer I turned 16, and I was a co-author on my first paper based on work we did in his lab. We collaborated with Barry Bloom, who was another very well-known scientist at Einstein. [Bloom is now Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health, Emeritus at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.]

Then in college at Stony Brook, I worked in the lab of a well known Japanese scientist, Eiichi Ohtsubo , who did a lot with electron microscopy in those days, showing how DNA replicates. From that came my second publication, as a college student, so now I really had the bug -- now, it was going to be MD PhD all the way.

I also had great access to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on Long Island. The scientists you would meet had written the defining textbooks. Watson and Crick, Barbara McClintock, who figured out there were transposable elements in genetic material before they even knew that DNA was genetic material. Fascinating stuff.

Back at Einstein, I did my PhD with another very well-known scientist, Lucy Shapiro. She was Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. [Shapiro is now the Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research and Director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford University.]

So, I had the good fortune to be working with really great scientists the entire time.

Let’s talk about your ongoing relationship with Einstein. Why is giving back to the school so important to you, and why did you choose to serve as Alumni Association President?

I love Einstein, and my heart really never left this place. There was an intimacy, though it's not a small medical school, maybe because there were three residence buildings and another right down the street. We had the synagogue, the food was all kosher – but everybody was welcome. There was a sense of inclusion you don't find in many schools.

So when my wife and I moved back east, it was a no-brainer to get involved. They’d started a scholarship fund in Dom Purpura’s name – he was one of the longest tenured Deans of a medical school – and I said, “We owe Einstein a lot – like our financial existence and my professional career – so maybe this is a good time to start giving back.” Because Einstein really helped me, more than they had to, and that's always stuck with me.

What are biggest challenges you’ve faced during your presidency?

Fewer than 10 percent of the alumni give to the school, even though many got scholarships to come here. It’s a mindset we really need to change, because, at all but a few of the wealthier medical schools, we’re giving our kids an impossible task. Physicians make a good living, but coming out with $300,000 in debt is hardly viable. We need the brightest minds to go into medicine, but right now they’re all going to Wall Street. Medical schools with larger endowments have put a cap on debt, some even charge no tuition, and somehow – and I don’t say it’s the government’s responsibility – we need to do that nationally or, at least, at Einstein.

On the positive side, Einstein had its best financial fundraising year last year, and I understand we are on track for another great year this year.

How has the pandemic affected those efforts?

Well, we’ve had people’s undivided attention – they couldn't tell us they weren't home!

Quite seriously, we’ve had the opportunity to really re-engage with our former classmates. We’ve been educating people about what’s going on at Einstein itself. So, for example, the school is getting more NIH research money than ever – but we also have this big family medicine and community outreach program because now there’s a growing contingent of students going into family practice who want to stay in the Bronx community. Which is phenomenal, because the need is so great.

And at the same time, our conversation with alumni isn’t just about money. Obviously, we want people to give to the school, but we also want the Alumni Association to be more involved with the students and their lives and what's going on. And I think we've begun to accomplish that. We have a big mentorship program. We have a networking program where students can ask questions about specialties they are considering. We have a program now where students do mock residency program interviews with alumni and faculty. The Alumni Association itself has standing committees on student mentoring, awards and nominations to the board, class ambassadors and development. While the development committee remains critically important, we now require them to speak last at meetings, because we don’t want the focus to just be on money. We don’t think that’s way to win the hearts of the Alumni Association Board or the alumni.

Meanwhile, I think Einstein and Montefiore should be applauded for what they’ve done during the pandemic. We don’t get nearly as much attention as some of the other institutions around New York, but our students, faculty, staff and the entire Einstein and Montefiore administration did just so much, and they did it for alargely indigent and under insured population that could not afford medical care. The students really stepped up to the plate – some graduated early, so they could help in the hospitals during the height of pandemic.

What message do you have for this year’s graduating class?

First: Whether you’ve trained as a PhD, an MD or an MD PhD at Einstein, you can know that you’ve gotten phenomenal training from some of the world's best educators, scientists and clinicians. You're prepared for your career, whether you're going to Mass General or to a community hospital because you wanted to work in the inner city.

And second: We always need to remember where we came from. As a youngster, I remember my grandparents always talking about “the old country,” which my family was fortunate enough to leave before the Holocaust. Our past helps us avoid the traps of the future, right? So as alumni of Einstein, look back on the quality of the education you got and think about the people who dedicated their time and money to making sure that Einstein is the outstanding place it is.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine deeply appreciates Jay M. Feingold MD '86 PhD '85 and Ms. Caryl Hirsch for their generosity in establishing the Dr. Jay M. Feingold and Ms. Caryl Hirsch Fund to support student scholarships. We thank you for your investment in future generations of physicians at Einstein.