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Morris J. Birnbaum, M.D., Ph.D.

Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Internal Medicine Research Unit
  • Group: Internal Medicine Research Unit
  • Location: Cambridge, MA

Morris J. Birnbaum is currently Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for the Internal Medicine Research Unit at Pfizer, located in Cambridge, MA. In this role, Dr. Birnbaum leads the discovery of novel transformative therapies to reduce the prevalence of cardiometabolic dysfunction, thereby eliminating or diminishing the impact of common diseases on life expectancy and quality. He is responsible for guiding the portfolio and technology strategies to bring programs from discovery through to proof of concept in the clinic.

Dr. Birnbaum joined Pfizer in 2014 after an almost 30-year career as a Physician Scientist, leading an academic laboratory focused on basic research in fundamental mechanisms in metabolic regulation. He occupied roles as Associate Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Birnbaum also served as Associate Dean for Biomedical Cores and Associate Director of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism. He completed his undergraduate, graduate, and medical training at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island before clinical training in Internal Medicine at Barnes Hospital of Washington University School of in St. Louis, MO, and postdoctoral studies at the University of California, San Francisco and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute.

In his academic career, Dr. Birnbaum published over 200 refereed papers in the world’s leading scientific journals, including Cell, Science, and Nature. His research focused on the study of insulin action, metabolism, and how organisms respond to both a deficit and a surfeit of food. Among his scientific contributions, Dr. Birnbaum is credited with the cloning of the insulin-responsive glucose transporter and the elucidation of insulin signaling pathways critical to both normal physiology and the development of metabolic disease. Throughout his career, Dr. Birnbaum has been active in national and international scholarly activities, including serving as a member of the Research Policy Committee of the American Diabetes Association, on the Editorial Boards of Journal of Biological Chemistry, Diabetes and Endocrine Reviews, and Deputy Editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation; he is currently on the Editorial Boards of Cell Metabolism and Science Signaling. Dr. Birnbaum was elected to membership in the American Society for Clinical Investigation and Association of American Physicians and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


The Internal Medicine Research Unit (IMRU) focuses on identifying novel therapies for patients suffering from a range of common metabolic diseases, including NASH, cachexia, diabetes, obesity, and abnormalities in cardiac metabolism.

Our key strategies are:

  • Focus on metabolic dysfunction/liver steatosis as primary disease driver for NASH
  • Target metabolic pathways that improve glucose handling and insulin resistance, pijarioy in skeletal muscle, for treatment of T2DM and protection against cardiovascular risk Reverse cachexia in patients with cancer or chronic diseases such as heart failure, COPD, and CKD
  • Selected investment in metabolic heart failure targets
  • Build deep mechanistic understanding of the aberrant activation of the innate immune system and the link to the pathogenesis of metabolic, inflammatory, and degenerative diseases


Titchenell PM, Quinn WJ, Lu M, Chu Q, Lu W, Li C, Chen H, Monks BR, Chen J, Rabinowitz JD, Birnbaum MJ. Direct Hepatocyte Insulin Signaling Is Required for Lipogenesis but Is Dispensable for the Suppression of Glucose Production. Cell Metab. 2016 Jun 14;23(6):1154-1166. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.04.022. Epub 2016 May 26. PubMed PMID: 27238637; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4909537.

Titchenell PM, Lazar MA, Birnbaum MJ. Unraveling the Regulation of Hepatic Metabolism by Insulin. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Jul;28(7):497-505. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2017.03.003. Epub 2017 Apr 14. Review. PubMed PMID: 28416361; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5477655.

Jang C, Hui S, Lu W, Cowan AJ, Morscher RJ, Lee G, Liu W, Tesz GJ, Birnbaum MJ, Rabinowitz JD. The Small Intestine Converts Dietary Fructose into Glucose and Organic Acids. Cell Metab. 2018 Feb 6;27(2):351-361.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.12.016. PubMed PMID: 29414685; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6032988.

Miller RA, Shi Y, Lu W, Pirman DA, Jatkar A, Blatnik M, Wu H, Cárdenas C, Wan M, Foskett JK, Park JO, Zhang Y, Holland WL, Rabinowitz JD, Birnbaum MJ. Targeting hepatic glutaminase activity to ameliorate hyperglycemia. Nat Med. 2018 May;24(4):518-524. doi: 10.1038/nm.4514. Epub 2018 Mar 26. Erratum in: Nat Med. 2018 Jun 12;:. PubMed PMID: 29578539; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6089616.


Brown University, A.B., Ph.D., M.D.
Barnes Hospital, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Intern in Medicine
Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, MO, Junior and Senior Resident
University of California, Metabolic Research Unit, San Francisco, CA, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York, NY, Research Associate


1995 - Elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation
2002 - Stanley N. Cohen Biomedical Research Award, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
2003 - Elected to the American Association of Physicians
2004 - Mosenthal award, American Diabetes Association Eastern Region, New York
2010 - Outstanding Teaching Award, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Class of 2013
2015 - The Ray A. and Robert L. Kroc Lecturer, Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
2015 - The Ray A. and Robert L. Kroc Lecturer, Diabetes & Obesity Center of Excellence, University of Washington

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Kendra K. Bence, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Metabolism

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Bei B Zhang

Vice President, Metabolic Research