David Katzenstein, MD

1952 – 2021

David Katzenstein, MD

Last week, the world lost a special person, David Katzenstein, MD. David was a good friend, brilliant scientist and researcher, and phenomenal mentor. His enthusiasm and passion for his work and life was infectious. Born in Hartford, CT, David received his BA and MD from the University of California, San Diego. He began his career in the early 1980s working with underserved populations at a Native Tribal clinic in New Mexico and with people living with AIDS at the Haight Ashbury Clinic in San Francisco. As a junior faculty member, he conducted CMV research at the University of Minnesota and then took a position working as a microbiologist at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare between 1985 and 1987. When the devastating effects of the HIV pandemic became apparent, David pivoted to join the early pioneers conducting HIV research. Between 1987 and 1989, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Biologics, Evaluation, and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. In 1989, David joined the faculty at Stanford University where he remained until his retirement to emeritus status in 2017.

David’s involvement with the ACTG dates back to his earliest days at Stanford, where he served as Associate Medical Director of the Stanford AIDS Clinical Trials Unit, a position he held for 25 years. As a beginning clinical investigator, David became co-chair with Scott Hammer (then another early-stage investigator) of ACTG 175, a phase 3 trial comparing ZDV monotherapy to ddI monotherapy or combination therapy of ZDV+ddI or ZDV+ddC. This early pivotal trial of nearly 2500 participants demonstrated the superiority of ddI and of ZDV+ddI over ZDV alone.  Virologic analyses from the study helped lay the foundation for the use of virus load monitoring as a surrogate marker for ARV efficacy.

In the decades to follow, David contributed to dozens of ACTG trials, New Works Concept Sheets, and Data Analysis Concept Sheets as chair, co-investigator, team member, and virologist. Of the nearly 300 publications listed on his CV, nearly one-third were related to his work with the ACTG. As a virologist, David became a leader in the field of HIV drug resistance, supported by numerous NIH grants. For many years he directed the ACTG Virology Advanced Technology Laboratory, as the Virology Specialty Laboratories were then known.

Early on, David recognized the disparate impact of HIV in low-resource settings, and was a pioneer in perinatal HIV transmission prevention and adapting technologies to different settings.

His time in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s had a lasting impact on him, and he returned frequently to build collaborations and help mentor emerging investigators. Notably, in 2000 David received a Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Trust to explore affordable, feasible treatment for women living with HIV in Southern Africa. He emphasized the importance of studying drug resistance in Africa and published some of the first studies of HIV drug resistance in non-subtype B viruses. Following his retirement from Stanford University in 2017, David became the director of the Biomedical Research Training Institute in Zimbabwe, where he led the molecular diagnostics laboratory to support laboratory monitoring of community-based treatment programs in Zimbabwe.

In all his work, David engaged researchers and trainees from different parts of the world. Sitting in a world-class laboratory, he helped to train and mentor many rising scientists and physicians. His collaborations spanned from industry to community, bringing forth novel approaches. David’s major strength was his scientific imagination and how he shared this with his friends and colleagues. He had a wonderful, warm manner, which made him a great mentor, friend, and leader. Generous with his time, effort and ideas, David was a cherished teacher for many young and mid-career physicians and scientists, now scattered throughout different academic institutions and agencies in the U.S. and around the world. With his encyclopedic knowledge, deep intellect, and strong belief in social justice, David helped level the playing field for those from diverse backgrounds. He exemplified academic excellence and he inspired those around him to aspire to high achievement, all with the goal of contributing to the common good. He nurtured the careers of clinicians, basic and social scientists, while encouraging multidisciplinary efforts to tackle the global HIV pandemic.

David lived every day to the fullest, accomplishing more each day than many would in the course of a week or a month. He worked tirelessly and with great joy, giving of himself without reserve. As the true free spirit that he was, David intermingled his academic pursuits while basking in the wonders of this world, always seeking adventure and new experiences. His work led to his many travels around the world, and indeed, his experiences were woven intricately into his work life and would easily read as a bucket list for a true adventurer.

David lost his life to COVID-19 on January 25, 2021 in Harare, Zimbabwe. He died in the place that he loved, cared for in the hospital by those that he mentored along the way. The outpouring of grief at his loss is a testament to David, who helped so many, touched so many lives, improved the livelihoods of innumerable men and women, inspired, and motivated. Friend, family, colleague, mentor – truly a one of a kind. His death leaves us all poorer, but his life serves as an example to us all. Rest in peace, David – we will continue to draw on the foundation with which you left us. Fearless, eager, and joyful.