See related profiles about Vanessa Van Gorder ’95 Distajo and Jane Beachy ’97
More than Skin Deep
By Camila Chaudron ’08
By almost every measure imaginable, Lee Zane ’88 has achieved dazzling success: Valedictorian at Colgate University with a degree in neuroscience, an M.D. from Stanford University, a faculty member at a premier institution, a successful biotech executive, and a father of two boys – not to mention a black belt in martial arts. Zane also possesses the rare ability to reflect deeply on how he has accomplished so much, to whom he owes it, and the role social responsibility played in his journey.
A third-generation Punahou student, Zane credits much of his growth mindset to his experiences at Punahou, where he sought a well-rounded education – playing volleyball and basketball, writing and acting in the Variety Show, and marching in the band. But it was the people who inspired and propelled him.
“Every quantum leap I’ve made can be traced back to someone,” Zane says of his mentors, “whether it was something they said, demonstrated, or embodied.” One mentor in particular stood out: Buff ’n Blue Volleyball Coach Chris McLachlin ’64.
Renowned for his championship-winning teams, “Coach Mac didn’t just make you a great player, he taught you to be a great man and a winner,” Zane reflects. While he admits he wasn’t a star athlete, the lessons he learned on and off the court about hard work, perseverance, preparation and conviction shaped Zane’s confidence in a profound way. “We prepared harder than any other team and when we stepped onto the court, it wasn’t a question of whether we’d win, but by how much.”
The self-confidence he generated on the court also impacted his academics, but Zane’s focus was not entirely on grades. Instead, he was “far more driven by fascination.” “If I can just tap into even a little of the passion that drove my teachers or professors to dedicate their lives to their field,” he explains, “learning becomes far easier and much more interesting.”
Clearly this approach paid off: he graduated at the top of his class at Colgate and after two years doing research in a neuroscience lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, he enrolled in medical school at Stanford on a five-year track, which allowed him to continue his research and teaching. Whereas many doctors decry their years of medical school, Zane thrived in the intellectually rigorous environment: “The fact that you’re constantly engaged and working alongside inspiring world-class physicians makes up for the tough hours.”
During his dermatology residency training at the University of California, San Francisco, Zane discovered an interest in clinical research and was invited to join the faculty at UCSF. There he obtained a master’s degree in clinical research, earned a dual appointment in dermatology as well as epidemiology and biostatistics, and successfully built and directed the central Clinical Research Unit in the Dermatology Department.
Zane has made social responsibility integral to his life. As a resident, recognizing a lack of support for young academicians and scientists, particularly in his chosen area of acne research, he founded the American Acne and Rosacea Society, which awards research grants to young investigators. It was also for reasons of social impact that Lee decided to transition from academia to the biotech industry, joining Palo Alto-based Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2008.
“As much as I loved seeing patients,” he said, “I was only helping one patient at a time. If I could leverage my skills as a clinical researcher and bring new medications to market, I could help populations of patients at a time.”
Starting over in a new career at Anacor, Zane quickly rose to become Chief Medical Officer, helped to take the company public in 2010, and developed two consecutive new molecules through clinical trials to market, including a cutting-edge drug to treat eczema. Its unprecedented successes attracted the attention of bigger companies, and Anacor was eventually bought by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. for $5.2 billion in 2016.
These days, Zane is focused on spending time with his family, continuing his personal development, and giving back to his community. The longtime California resident volunteers in a myriad of ways: as a trustee for his older son’s middle school; as a mentor for students and young physicians in medicine or biotechnology; as a den leader for his younger son’s Cub Scout den; and, most recently, as an alumni participant in the Punahou G-Term trip to the Bay Area.
Not coincidentally, social responsibility was also the theme of the G-Term course, where Zane spoke to the students about his experiences in science and technology. “If they can benefit from any of the lessons I’ve learned, I’m happy to share them,” he said. “The greatest thanks I can give to my mentors is to pay it forward as a mentor to others.”