For the past three months, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center at IU Health, following in the footsteps of Patrick Loehrer, M.D., and the late Stephen Williams, M.D.

My wife – a distinguished research scientist – and I spent the past 14 years in Buffalo, New York, where I was a physician-scientist and a leader at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, another renowned cancer center. I am extremely proud of the outstanding immunology program that my colleagues and I built there.

So why IU? It is IU’s stated goal to cure cancer that attracted me here. Of course, IU already has a track record of developing a cure as Larry Einhorn, M.D., did just that for testicular cancer in the late 1970s. Fast forward to IU’s present-day Precision Health Initiative: IU is now seeking to cure triple negative breast cancer, pediatric sarcoma, and multiple myeloma. As a physician-scientist focused on the latter, I am impressed by IU’s ambitious goal.

When I visited IU, I found that the progressive mindset here was appropriately partnered with enthusiasm and passion at every level. This, combined with the talent and dedication of the existing teams in the research labs and in the exam rooms and hospital, led me here.

And now that I have arrived, I want to build upon the remarkable talent and dedication of the center’s nearly 250 researchers and physician-scientists with bold goals of my own: 10 and 10 in 10.

The first 10 refers to our score from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In 2019, the NCI designated the center a Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is considered the gold standard for top-tier cancer centers. The comprehensive designation recognizes our added depth and breadth in basic, clinical, and population research, educational activities, and effective statewide community outreach program. We earned an “outstanding” score, but I want to go a step further and earn the highest score of “exceptional” – which is a 10.

The second 10 refers to the more familiar U.S. News & World Report rankings that evaluate excellence in clinical care, determined in part by peers in our specialty area. Our goal is to be in the top 10 for cancer care.

The third 10 refers to the timeline: We’re striving to reach these goals in 10 years.

Bold? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. The talent is already here. For example:

  • Earlier this year, IU researchers published promising findings in the New England Journal of Medicine on preventing a common complication to life-saving blood stem cell transplantation in leukemia. It’s no small feat to be published in this prestigious journal, and it’s even more impressive because every author is affiliated with IU. And the findings are significant: The IU clinical trial showed that giving patients an existing drug at the time of transplant could greatly reduce the incidence of graft-versus-host disease, which means fewer may endure severe side effects and a potential fatal disease.  <br><br>
  • IU and IU Health were the first in the state to offer patients with certain cancers CAR T-cell therapy, a cutting-edge approach that reprograms a patient’s immune cells to recognize and attack cancer. <br><br>
  • A team of IU scientists and IU Health physicians are working on the next generation of personalized medicine using both genomics and pharmacogenomics – the study of how a person’s genes affect how he or she responds to drugs – that may have implications for a variety of cancers in the future.<br><br>
  • IU researchers design and implement clinical trials – trials that are often the last line of defense for patients when standard therapies have failed. The majority of these trials are only available at academic health centers and their affiliated cancer centers because of the demands of managing such trials and the complexity of patients’ health.

Patients are at the core of what we do. So, we’ll continue our work in reducing the number of new cancer cases and the number of deaths caused by the disease. This includes our efforts to decrease tobacco use among Hoosiers, to increase HPV vaccination rates, and to increase breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening, especially in racially diverse and rural populations in Indiana.

Overall, our work is focused on developing better approaches for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer for Hoosiers and others around the world. You’re  invited to hear from our experts about their work and ask your questions during our new monthly series called the Simon Says Expert Series

It’s in my DNA to build things, and it’s an incredible privilege to be given the opportunity to build on the excellence at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. I look forward to leading the center and impacting the lives of my fellow Hoosiers.

Kelvin Lee, M.D. is the director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Lee is also associate dean of cancer research at IU School of Medicine, a professor of medicine, and the H.H. Gregg Professor of Oncology.

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