From Vietnam to the USA biotech sector: a career journey focused on translating genetic findings into novel therapies

By Jane Murphy, Scientific Programme Officer, Wellcome Connecting Science

Dr Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn standing outside in front of Hinxton Hall. She is leaning on a post and smiling.
Dr Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn standing outside the Hinxton Hall Conference Centre, on the Wellcome Genome Campus, UK.

In brilliant June sunshine, we welcomed conference-goers to Multi-omics in Metabolic Disease 2023. For some, this new meeting was not their first visit to the Wellcome Genome Campus for a Wellcome Connecting Science event. As a graduate student, Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn had attended our School of Human Genomics.

The now Dr. Nguyễn shares her inspiring journey from Vietnam to the USA, working in Seattle’s biotech sector, via Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Boston’s pharmaceutical and biotech industry.

To discover more about the importance of working on global populations, and how applying human genetics and statistics can lead to an exciting career in drug discovery and development, read on.

How did training on our human genomics programme help to shape your career?

I am always filled with scientific inspiration after research conferences, especially those at the Wellcome Genome Campus. The excitement and creativity I had after attending the Leena Peltonen School of Human Genomics* in 2010 as a graduate student, helped me commit to doing high-quality and impactful genetics research critical for my work in industry.

I’ve been intentional about each step in my career path since. This has led to my current role which satisfies my curiosity, and desire to learn and grow, while doing impactful work in a truly incredible team.

During your pre-doctoral training, you attended Epigenomics of Common Diseases 2012. How did your PhD work on the genetic architecture of common and rare diseases help you move into the drug discovery industry?

My pre-doctoral training at Johns Hopkins has provided me with the knowledge and deep appreciation for the field of human genetics, molecular biology, and medicine in health and disease. Being one of only a few graduate students in Aravinda Chakravarti’s lab at the time, set me up for independent and critical thinking in research and analytics. This combined with hands-on computational skills and an interest in translating genetic findings into actionable biological hypotheses, propelled me into a postdoctoral appointment at Merck in the drug discovery industry. There, I applied my statistical genetics background to help find genes underlying diseases that could make good targets for novel therapies. It also offered me the opportunity to learn more about pipelines and the application of human genetics in other research areas.

You now work on metabolic disease research in global populations. Why do you think it is important to understand the genetics of diverse ancestries? 

Such genetic variation can help inform disease mechanisms affecting global populations. Before we can shed more light on disease processes and drive novel discovery, we first need to address the current gap in genomic and multi-omic data representation. Only by filling this gap, will we be able to put together a more complete picture of human disease in all populations.

To date, only ~20% of human genetic sequencing data generated are from individuals outside of Northwestern European ancestry1. This fraction is even smaller for multi-omics data2, leaving much of the human genetic variation unexplored.


Dr Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn, Variant Bio, USA

How did presenting your research as an offered short talk at our Multi-omics in Metabolic Disease conference, benefit you and your work?

I was thrilled to represent the Variant Bio team and present novel discoveries on potential therapeutics that have resulted from our work on genetics and multi-omics studies in diverse populations. I hoped that highlighting this work would excite other researchers and encourage more global partnerships to work on underrepresented populations, as this will ultimately benefit all. I value the many invigorating in-person interactions I had at the conference and I’m certain the relationships built will be the beginning of many fruitful collaborations.

What is your advice to young researchers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are just starting out, or who would like to move into research in a commercial setting?

I’d say mainly 5 things: network, ask questions, take calculated risks, lean on your trusted support system and enjoy the process!

Networking any chance I got, really helped me to build and maintain valuable relationships; allowing me to seek advice, and to get input on questions to gain perspective and clarity.


Networking can be an awkward thing to think about, at least it was for me in the beginning. I learned that people are more inclined to connect and respond if you have specific questions or topics to discuss when reaching out, even better if it’s something they also care about.

Dr Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn, Variant Bio, USA

In the same vein, I find it most helpful to be intentional about my goals, and not to be afraid to take calculated risks. It’s okay to fail, so I’d strongly recommend considering a plan B and pivoting as needed. Don’t think of advice as the path you need to pursue, but rather, as an opportunity to reflect on whether it is the right way to get closer to your goals.

Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone. Lean on your family, friends, and loved ones when needed, even if they don’t have direct experience in what you do, or don’t see your drive exactly the way you do. They care about you so will be happy to show up for you.

Dr Khánh-Dung ‘KD’ Nguyễn, Variant Bio, USA

Lastly, try to enjoy the journey. As Margaret Drabble put it so well, “when nothing is sure, everything is possible.”


1 Sirugo et al, Cell 2019,

2 Yang et al, ASCPT 2023,

Editor notes

* Our Human Genomics Programme has now been superseded, but the Wellcome Connecting Science Learning and Training team offers many career-enhancing experiences. Check out our current events listings to discover many new opportunities for networking, mentorship and collaboration. 

To be part of Multi-omics in Metabolic Disease 2025, please sign up for the dedicated mailing list here, or watch out for details on our events page where it will be listed shortly.

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