Commencement Spotlight: Tony Yu, PhD ’24

Tony Yu is the first USC Mann student to earn both a master’s in biopharmaceutical marketing and a PhD in health economics.

Tony Yu attended his first Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) conference in 2018. That event, in which he has participated annually ever since, was his introduction to the world of health economics. It was also a defining moment for Yu, who says the conference set the direction for his academic and professional pursuits.

This includes earning his PhD in health economics at USC Mann with a focus on health economics and outcomes research (HEOR). Yu is also a HEOR doctoral fellow at the pharmaceutical company AbbVie.

His time at USC Mann marks a culmination of training that has taken many health-related paths. Yu received his Master of Public Health from Yale in 2019. Before that, he studied biology and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.

Building on that impressive background, Yu decided to pursue a challenging dual-degree track. He is the first-ever student at USC Mann to garner a master’s in biopharmaceutical marketing, which he earned in 2023, while also studying for a PhD.

Yu (second from left) with USC Mann School’s Dean, faculty, staff and students at the 81st International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Brisbane, Australia in September 2023.

Yu credits Ken Wong, director of the school’s Division of Healthcare and Biopharmaceutical Business, with helping secure that chosen pathway.

“By blending the MS in biopharmaceutical marketing with a PhD in health economics, Tony is something of a pioneer,” Wong says. “But given his curiosity, drive and talent, as well as his remarkable dedication and foresight, I never had any doubt that he would succeed in both. I know he will fuse the two disciplines for great success in his future career.”

Academic freedom has been a consistent theme throughout his time at USC Mann, Yu notes. During his first two years as a PhD student, the school enabled him to conduct original research rather than being a teaching assistant. And instead of getting assigned to just one faculty member, Yu collaborated with numerous professors, as well as researchers from outside USC.

In the MS program, Yu led an Enterprise Team Project—a practicum providing students with real-world experience by working with actual biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. The team aided a rare disease company after its medication had failed to receive a positive response from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), an independent nonprofit that assesses the value of new therapeutics.

Yu notes that USC Mann prepared him well for that opportunity—and for his future.

“My classes in both the master’s and PhD programs really emphasize presentation skills,” he says. “I definitely did a lot more presentations than I was used to. And through that, I feel more confident before audiences.”

Having added his PhD to his master’s at USC Mann, Yu plans to enter the pharmaceutical or consulting industry.

Whatever form his next path takes, he will keep promoting evidence-based research to better understand the value of innovative therapies—and to help ensure that patients have access to the right drugs at a reasonable cost.