New Leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Wednesday, 26 December 2001

Harold Varmus, President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, today announced the appointments of Robert E. Wittes as Physician-in-Chief of Memorial Hospital and Thomas J. Kelly as Chairman of the Sloan-Kettering Institute.

Dr. Wittes, who trained at Memorial Hospital and served as an attending physician in its Department of Medicine for 10 years, is currently at the National Cancer Institute where he serves as Deputy Director for Extramural Science and also directs the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis.

Dr. Kelly, a noted physician-scientist, has spent his career at the Johns Hopkins University where he directs the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and the interdisciplinary Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences.

"Memorial Sloan-Kettering is beginning a period of extraordinary growth and development across our full panoply of clinical and research programs," said Dr. Varmus. "In Bob and Tom, we have leaders with the vision, skill and experience to work with me to guide Memorial Sloan-Kettering at this exciting time."

Under the leadership of Dr. Varmus, who joined Memorial Sloan-Kettering two years ago after serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the Center began construction of a major clinical addition to enhance its programs in surgery, pathology and pediatrics. The Center is also planning the construction of a new laboratory building and expansion of its basic research efforts into important new areas.

Dr. Wittes and Dr. Kelly are expected to join Memorial Sloan-Kettering early in 2002.

Robert E. Wittes, MD

Robert E. Wittes, 58, is Director of the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, a post he has held since 1995, and Deputy Director for Extramural Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. He has responsibility for the NCI's clinical and basic research programs, including the evaluation of new therapeutics and disease-oriented translational research. From 1974-85 Dr. Wittes was a physician in Division of Solid Tumor Oncology in MSK's Department of Medicine.

"Bob Wittes brings a unique perspective to his new role because of his long clinical experience at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and the knowledge of new cancer therapeutics gained while overseeing key elements of the nation's cancer research effort," said Dr. Varmus. "That balance will be essential in our efforts to maintain Memorial Hospital's clinical excellence and to join our clinical research program effectively with the basic research conducted at the Sloan-Kettering Institute."

In speaking about his new appointment, Dr. Wittes said: "The key challenge in clinical oncology today is translating the emerging knowledge of cancer biology into effective and humane cancer care. No place in the world is better positioned to do this than MSK. With so many exciting possibilities at hand, I feel very privileged to be re-joining the Memorial family."

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Wittes first came to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1972 as a medical oncology fellow. During his tenure at MSK, he participated actively in clinical research and was instrumental in developing new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of testicular cancer, small-cell lung cancer and head and neck cancer, among others.

George Bosl, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, also cited Dr. Wittes' experience: "I have known Bob for 20 years. He was an outstanding physician with a large practice and a rigorous investigator while he was here at MSK. In returning as Physician-in-Chief, he brings knowledge of many staff members and our commitment to superior patient care, teaching and research, and substantial administrative experience. Bob is well-suited for the position and will be a great asset."

Noted Philip Gutin, Chief of the Neurosurgical Service and Chair of the Search Committee: "He brings a sophisticated knowledge of clinical trials and clinical cancer research. He also has strong administrative experience in an oncological setting. This is a great recruit for the staff and patients of Memorial Sloan-Kettering."

Dr. Wittes joined the NCI in 1983 as head of the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, and then served as Senior Vice President of Cancer Research at Bristol-Myers Squibb from 1988-90. He rejoined the NCI in 1990 as Chief of the Medicine Branch and assumed his current duties in 1995. As Director of the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, Dr. Wittes has overseen the NCI's programs in drug discovery and development, clinical trials, diagnostic imaging, radiotherapy, and molecular diagnosis. As NCI's Deputy Director for Extramural Science he is also responsible for the cancer centers program, the SPORE program (specialized centers focused on translational research), training, and complementary and alternative medicine.

"For over six years it was my pleasure to run the NCI in partnership with Bob Wittes, one of the most extraordinary physicians, oncologists and brilliant leaders I have ever met. It is a coup for MSKCC to have recruited Bob and as Physician-in-Chief, he will lead a great institution into the new world of molecular oncology while assuring the highest and most humane standards of patient care," said Richard Klausner, Director of the NCI from 1995-2001 and now Director of the Case Institute of Health, Science and Technology.

"Bob Wittes is one of the very best clinical investigators and managers of cancer therapeutic programs in the country. I have the highest regard for him and I am delighted that he is coming to MSKCC. He will be a credit to a very great cancer center," said David Nathan, President Emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Research Institute.

Dr. Wittes succeeds David W. Golde, who announced his intention to step down as Physician-in-Chief earlier this year.

Thomas J. Kelly, MD, PhD

Thomas Kelly, 60, is the Boury Professor and Chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins. In 2000, he was named founding director of the university's Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, which consolidates research and teaching in the basic sciences.

"Tom Kelly is responsible for building what is arguably the best basic science department at a medical school anywhere in this country," said Dr. Varmus. "At the Sloan-Kettering Institute he will direct the expansion of our research faculty and will plan, with me and Bob Wittes, how best to bridge SKI's basic science activities with the hospital's clinical research program."

In speaking about his new appointment, Dr. Kelly said: "I am excited to be joining MSK at this time of unprecedented opportunity for cancer research. The Sloan-Kettering Institute has a well-deserved reputation as a world leader in basic cancer research. During the next phase of growth of the Institute, we will build upon this strong base to develop new basic research programs aimed at understanding the causes of cancer at the molecular level and to translate the discoveries of our basic scientists into clinical practice."

Dr. Kelly, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, has had a long and distinguished career at Johns Hopkins. Beginning as an undergraduate, he also received a PhD in biophysics in 1968 and an MD in 1969 from Johns Hopkins. Following a fellowship at Harvard University and two years at the National Institutes of Health, he joined the faculty of the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins as an Assistant Professor of Microbiology. In 1982, Dr. Kelly assumed the chairmanship of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.

"This is a fabulous appointment for Sloan-Kettering. Tom is universally respected for his scientific accomplishments. As a scientist, he is imaginative and vigorous and is a warm and effective leader. This will continue a strong tradition of good basic science at Sloan-Kettering," said Joseph Goldstein, Chairman of the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and a member of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr. Kelly's early work included several significant studies in bacterial and viral systems. As a graduate student with Charles Thomas he discovered how a virus called bacteriophage T7 replicates. As a postdoctoral fellow working with Hamilton O. Smith he found a key sequence for a restriction enzyme, which acts like a molecular scissors and cuts DNA. This represented a major advance in the development of modern recombinant DNA technology.

During his tenure at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Kelly moved into the emerging field of molecular virology. His first independent work was directed at understanding the replication of the tumor virus SV40. He applied electron microscopic methods to probe the organization of the SV40 genome and to learn how it replicates. He was one of the first to apply nucleic acid electron microscopy to the study of animal viruses. In 1980 he published the first study of how viral DNA integrates into cells during oncogenic transformation, a necessary step for tumor formation.

Dr. Kelly's research has focused for many years on how the genome is duplicated during the cell cycle, particularly the ways in which replication of DNA is initiated and controlled. The precise control of DNA replication is critical for the maintenance of the integrity of the chromosomes and the prevention of genetic changes that could lead to cancer. Dr. Kelly pioneered the development of novel experimental systems that led to the identification and characterization of proteins that carry out DNA synthesis in human cells.

Earlier this year, Dr. Kelly's lab identified two proteins that function as "controllers" by allowing only one copy of the genome to be made. Working with yeast, Dr. Kelly and his colleagues found that mutations in both proteins caused DNA to continue replicating after a single copy had been made, a finding that may have particular significance in helping scientists understand what goes awry in cancer cells.

"As a leading cancer center, MSKCC has the potential to be the premier center in the US to translate the exciting science on how cancer progresses into new cancer therapeutic approaches. Just as he has done at Johns Hopkins, Tom will ensure that cancer research at MSKCC will be at the highest possible level'" said Bruce Stillman, Director and CEO of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "I am also pleased that another leading US scientist has been attracted to the New York region. My colleagues and I at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory look forward to continuing our already strong interactions with MSKCC and knowing Tom well, these interactions will increase for the betterment of cancer research."

Dr. Kelly succeeds Richard A. Rifkind who retired as Chairman of the Sloan-Kettering Institute in 1999. Dr. Varmus had served as the acting chair.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is the world's oldest and largest institution devoted to prevention, patient care, research and education in cancer. Our scientists and clinicians generate innovative approaches to better understand, diagnose and treat cancer. Our specialists are leaders in biomedical research and in translating the latest research to advance the standard of cancer care worldwide. Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases the patient-care arm of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was founded in 1884 as the New York Cancer Hospital. It has an attending staff of more than 500 physicians focused on treatment and research in cancer. The Sloan-Kettering Institute, which opened its doors in 1948, focuses on basic biological research into the causes of cancer.

For more information, or to contact Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, see their website at: www.mskcc.org

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