My first year as president of this magnificent institution has come to an end. I thank everyone who helps make MD Anderson exceptional on so many levels – superlative care, academic excellence, world-class education and more. I am honored and delighted to be part of this incredible family.
A year has given me a good perspective on how MD Anderson can best move forward with much needed positive changes and investments, while preserving the wonderful collegiality and multidisciplinary culture that set this institution apart.
I view this year as one of traditional values affirmed, new aspirations advanced and bold opportunities seized. It’s been a year of moon shots, the creation of innovative departments and programs, renewed energy at our graduate school, vibrant partnerships with national and global reach, and much more — far beyond the scope of this letter and the stories featured in this Annual Report.
The time is now to control our own destiny
Now is the time for us to envision and prepare for our future — one of increased financial stability in the face of economic cross-currents, one of caring and mentorship despite less time, one of seizing entrepreneurial opportunities, and one of trying ideas and new ventures while remaining judicious about how we use our talents and our resources.
Our size and our singular focus on cancer place us in a much stronger position than nearly all medical institutions in the country, but it is important that we act now to control our own destiny to ensure continued success and impact.
Because we have the world’s best clinical care providers, MD Anderson is in high demand. Patients who come here from the world over recognize our superlative care and often make significant personal sacrifice to be treated here. We must continue to grow our clinical operation to meet this pressing need through our multidisciplinary care, sophisticated technologies and cutting-edge experimental therapeutics.
In our highly complex treatment environment, we also must balance our near-capacity hospital and busy clinics with the caring and attention our patients need and deserve. We continue to do that, with many new initiatives to speed admissions, optimize use of existing staff and infrastructure and build more, reduce wait times, and offer a broad array of services to meet the emotional and information needs of our patients.
In addition, our suburban network of care centers in the Greater Houston area continues to thrive and has expanded its range of services and participation in clinical trials.
MD Anderson also has created strong relationships around the country and the world that benefit our institution, partners and, most important, our patients. It’s critical for us to extend our knowledge to other caregivers and our quality care to patients who can’t come here but need our expertise. As we expand beyond Houston, we must remain committed to maintaining the quality of our far-flung clinical care enterprise. Quality care is the cornerstone of our recognition as the world’s leading cancer center. There can be no compromises.
The time is now to tap our resources
One relatively untapped resource is the intellectual property of our talented faculty. We’re improving our ability to maximize return on our discoveries by designing programs that create more mature assets here and make us more attractive to the pharmaceutical industry. A drug discovery must be commercialized to become part of the standard of care. The baton-passing relay race among academia, biotech and pharmaceutical companies has proven to be costly and inefficient — as reflected in the 95% failure rate in cancer drug development.
MD Anderson must do all it can to spare patients from experiencing those 19 out of 20 failures through better preclinical validation of concepts and generation of clearer clinical-path hypotheses. In return, the institution will be rewarded with capital from the private sector that can be reinvested in our mission areas.
The time is now to change our approach to research
This year, I was proud to introduce the concept of our Moon Shots Program to significantly reduce cancer mortality. Although it was a rigorous process, selecting the inaugural cancers was, of course, the easy part. Delivering on our promise will be harder. Hundreds of faculty members and other employees came together on moon shot projects, organizing themselves, choosing leaders and developing compelling presentations of their ideas.
Why and how is this program different from other strategic initiatives? While we continue to cherish and support the intellectual excitement of academic discovery by individual investigators, the Moon Shots Program will focus on team science.
The combination of the platforms of new technology and expertise — staffed with professionals accountable to deliver on aggressive milestones, with the strength of MD Anderson’s research and clinical engines — is also what differentiates this program from others.
I believe this program will lead a culture change in scientific research and clinical medicine at MD Anderson and provide a model for others.
The time is now to make big plans
Our mission and strategic plans are bold and critical to humanity. When we walk MD Anderson’s halls or sit in an exam or hospital room with patients and their family members, we are constantly reminded that lives are at stake. Many are counting on us to succeed.
As your new president, it’s been a treat for me to explore MD Anderson’s history and discover things that have contributed to our vibrant culture and sense of self over the decades. Many have told me of the quote by Daniel Burnham, master planner and architect of the first American skyscrapers, that inspired R. Lee Clark, M.D., as MD Anderson’s first leader:
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood
and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans;
aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram
once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone
will be a living thing asserting itself with ever-growing intensity.”
Dr. Clark adopted these words to explain his dream of building an internationally renowned cancer center. His “big plans,” and those of all who shared his vision, have indeed been realized. We look forward to building an even more noble diagram for the elimination of cancer.