In September 2016, Eric Fearon, professor of internal medicine, pathology and human genetics, was named the new director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Fearon laid out a number of goals for the center including continuing multidisciplinary collaboration, recruiting top leaders in the field and increasing initiatives for improving patient cancer care.
Prior to arriving on campus for his first University role, Fearon completed his M.D. and Ph.D. in biology and a program in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University. Fearon has since held a number of leadership positions and honors in these areas, including his appointment as associate director for basic science research at the University of Michigan, being honored as a member of the Association of American Physicians and serving as deputy director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Fearon said he feels honored to take on this role at the University, noting what he called its unique ability to translate discoveries in research to clinical care.
Since the center was founded in 1986, Fearon said he is only its third director — following the tenure of Ted Lawrence, professor of oncology and internal medicine.
In addition to his main goals in taking advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the University, Fearon said he hopes to continue to expand upon the first director, Max Wicha’s success.
“I think one of the reasons that Max was so successful and the institution is so successful is we have a very broad and very deep collection of science across the University, perhaps as broad and deep as any research university in the country, that allows us to capitalize on advances in (all fields),” Fearon said.
Additionally, Fearon noted that cross-collaboration with other disciplines within the University has strongly benefitted the center.
“The barriers here across the schools to actually collaborate is very low,” he said.
To improve the center moving forward, Fearon said he hopes to sustain relationships within all University disciplines, encourage training of the next generation of clinicians and scientists and bring in top researchers from peer centers to improve quality of care.
“I think we can always advance cancer care,” Fearon said. “I think the most important thing is to really move the needle in impacting the burden of cancer on the population in Michigan, the population we serve in Michigan and nationally and internationally.”
One of Fearon’s roles in his first few weeks as director has been to fill positions in his leadership team with faculty who maintain interests in collaborative and innovative science. So far, Fearon said he has filled four positions pertaining to basic science research, clinical research and shared resources and has also appointed a new deputy director who he said is crucial in establishing further recruitment strategies.
“The Cancer Center, like many organizations at this institution and elsewhere, has a leadership team where there is tremendous depth of knowledge in other areas of science besides the areas that I might know something about, so I think one of the key things is always hiring smarter or better people than you are yourself,” Fearon said. “My leadership team, I think, is really emblematic of that.”
Pavan Reddy, the newly-appointed deputy director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he has both short- and long-term goals for his tenure, particularly continuing to deliver the best possible care for cancer patients through discovery at a broader perspective, and also aligning programs to meet both patient- and education-based needs.
Reddy added that he wants to use the basic science research already being done at the University in combination with the intellectual depth he sees in his colleagues to foster greater treatment developments.
“I think what would take us to the next level is to essentially leverage this spectacular fundamental science research into ways that we can develop new therapies or make patient life better one way or the other,” Reddy said. “Our hope is not to see ourselves as a regional player — which, on the fundamental science aspect, we clearly are not, I think we have a national to international reputation — but the goal is to leverage that and to make ourselves across the board a national to internationally well-known cancer center.”
Similarly, Anne Schott, new associate director for clinical research, said some prominent facets of her new role are to mentor junior investigators, support the clinical research program and minimize administrative burdens for efficiency in new research. Schott highlighted what she called the importance of collaboration in the success of cancer patient treatment.
“My part is to bring together the clinical research team and make sure that, for the patients that we see and the Cancer Center, we have appropriate clinical studies to offer them and that we take advantage of the breadth of the science in Michigan so that the trials that we’re doing are innovative and really moving the needle forward in terms of new directions in cancer treatment,” Schott said.
Overall, aside from academic achievements, Fearon said he felt encouraged by the progress the University has made so far in collaborative cancer research and looks forward to a critical examination of future work.
“Michigan has been really effective in building collaborative, multidisciplinary research over the past 20 years,” Fearon said. “Research at this institution and others is enabled by folks from many different disciplines and within the discipline thinking critically about how the work is done and what the implications of the work are for the larger, general public and for health and disease.”