Strong Leadership for Scientific Progress
I am very pleased to announce that Drs. Robert H. Wiltrout and Lee Helman have been appointed as Scientific Directors (SD) of NCI's Center for Cancer Research (CCR). Both have been serving in acting roles: Dr. Wiltrout as the SD for CCR and Dr. Helman serving under him as the SD for Clinical Research. Drs. Wiltrout and Helman have filled these positions superbly on an acting basis for the last several years.
Dr. Wiltrout's leadership of CCR has been unparalleled. He has done an excellent job of leading CCR in the current budgetary environment and has championed the importance of innovative, collaborative research, including overseeing the creation of four CCR Centers of Excellence to foster team science.
Similarly, Dr. Helman, a world expert on childhood sarcomas, is an outstanding leader who directs a highly successful basic and translational research program, and has made many key contributions to the national and international cancer community. Dr. Helman has demonstrated his ability to provide outstanding leadership of the NCI clinical branch chiefs. He has worked tirelessly with Dr. Wiltrout to fill several key leadership positions in the CCR clinical research program.
These permanent appointments represent an exciting development. In particular, I believe we are now in an excellent position to significantly enhance the influence and effectiveness of NCI's clinical program. There will be a renewed focus on speeding the transfer of important discoveries being made by CCR basic scientists into first-in-human and early-phase clinical trials led by clinical program scientists at the NIH Clinical Center. Drs. Helman and Wiltrout will work closely to identify the most promising findings, bring them forward to the clinic, and take full advantage of those clinical studies to further inform the underlying science.
For example, nearly every clinical study done by CCR researchers will be able to rely on the CCR Clinical Molecular Profiling Core (CMPC) established in the past year. Headed by Dr. Paul Meltzer, chief of the CCR Genetics Branch, the CMPC will offer CCR clinical scientists access to a suite of technologies used to perform genetic and epigenetic characterization of biospecimens collected during the course of their trials.
Clinical studies conducted at the NIH Clinical Center also will routinely rely on the expertise of CCR's Molecular Imaging Program, headed by Dr. Peter Choyke, to use state-of-the-art functional imaging to do things like track patients' responses to investigational agents in real time.
I also expect to see greater collaboration between the clinical program and NCI's extramural divisions to determine priority areas for joint efforts to help answer important clinical questions and, when possible, leverage resources.
We also hope to have greater collaboration between NCI intramural investigators in CCR and NCI-funded extramural investigators, taking advantage of synergies between individual investigators' work and expertise in the hope of translating promising basic findings more quickly into new interventions.
One of the first examples of these new collaborations is already underway. Dr. Samuel Wells, a leading expert on medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), from Washington University in St. Louis, and Dr. Frank Balis from the CCR Pediatric Oncology Branch will serve as co-principal investigators on an exciting phase I/II trial. The trial will test an investigational agent, vandetanib, a tyrosine kinase receptor inhibitor, to treat hereditary MTC in children and adolescents, a rare disease for which there are limited treatment options.
By building on the Institute's strengths in basic, clinical, and translational research and expanding collaboration both intramurally and extramurally, I believe we will see the influence of NCI's clinical program grow and its ability to bring new interventions to patients significantly enhanced.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber