After establishing the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in a temporary trailer behind the Simpson Memorial Institute 27 years ago, Cancer Center Director Max Wicha has decided to step down from his post.

Under Wicha’s leadership, the Cancer Center has become one of the leading cancer treatment and research centers in the country, ranking fourth in grants awarded from the National Cancer Institute and first for a university-based cancer center.

Looking back on his time as director, Wicha said building a state-of-the-art facility that would house both clinical work and research was significant highlight of his career. He led the effort to expand the Cancer Center’s reach even further with the 2010 acquisition of the North Campus Research Complex from Pfizer.

During Wicha’s time, the center also developed new techniques for treating cancers, and created one of the first breast cancer centers in the country that brings together physicians and nurses from different specialties.

Every five years, the NCI must renew the grant for the Cancer Center to continue its work. As the grant was recently renewed for the sixth time under Wicha’s leadership, he said he feels that it is the ideal time to hand the baton over to his successor.

Over the next year, the University of Michigan Health System will conduct a national search for Wicha’s successor.

Wicha said a good replacement would have a vision in mind for how to take the center forward, particularly in the fields of research and patient care.

“As director, they will have to have administrative skills in health care and health-care delivery, because with all of the changes in health care and health-care reform it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to be able to run successful large clinical programs,” Wicha said.

After leaving, Wicha plans to spend more time personally treating breast cancer patients, along with conducting more cancer stem cell research. In 2003, his lab discovered breast cancer stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy — leading Wicha and his team to focus on the development of new drugs that can attack stem cells.

“My hope is that even over the next decade many of the treatments we use now such as chemotherapy will become obsolete, and that our treatments will be much more tailored to individual patient’s tumors and the therapies will be much less toxic than what we have today,” Wicha said.

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