Three Themes to Guide von Eschenbach as NCI Director

October 1, 2002

BETHESDA, Maryland-Calling his initial months as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) "absolutely exhilarating," Andrew C. von Eschen-bach, MD, described three interrelated themes that will guide his leadership of the Institute. The three, he said at a meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), are patient centricity, a more active leadership by NCI in the National Cancer Program, and collaborations and partnerships beyond the Institute’s usual sphere of activities.

BETHESDA, Maryland—Calling his initial months as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) "absolutely exhilarating," Andrew C. von Eschen-bach, MD, described three interrelated themes that will guide his leadership of the Institute. The three, he said at a meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), are patient centricity, a more active leadership by NCI in the National Cancer Program, and collaborations and partnerships beyond the Institute’s usual sphere of activities.

"Simplistically stated, everything we do and consider is patient centered," Dr. von Eschenbach said. "The mission of the NCI is to eliminate the suffering and deaths from cancer. When we look at the incredible complexity of our agenda and the tremendous diversity of its components, it is extremely important that we look at all of them as means to the elimination of the disease."

The NCI needs to maintain a balanced research portfolio that adequately encompasses the discovery, development, and delivery to patients of new prevention strategies, diagnostic tools, and interventions, he said. "Some parts of the portfolio, we must take absolute responsibility for. Other parts, particularly with regard to assuring delivery of state-of-the-art care to all who need it, will require partnerships and collaborations," he said.

The diverse nature of the National Cancer Program, the number of organizations within it that are pursuing solutions to the disease, and the problems that such a diffuse effort creates extend far beyond the NCI and the research that it funds, Dr. von Eschenbach noted. "But NCI must be at the center of the National Cancer Program, providing the coordinating and integrating leadership that is necessary to bring all of these components together for an effective outcome," he added.

The three themes have shaped and molded his early tenure at NCI, Dr. von Eschenbach said. "They will continue to serve as guideposts as we move forward," he noted.

The NCI director also touched on several recent developments at the Institute during his report to the NCAB.

In the appointment of Elias A. Zerhoundi, MD, as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. von Eschenbach said he has found a philosophical partner. "The new NIH chief is also proactively pro patient and emphasizes the importance of collaborations outside of the NIH," he said.

NCI, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the US Army are engaged in discussions aimed at expanding the NCI facilities located at Fort Dietrick, Frederick, Maryland. The base is the site of the Army’s Bioterrorism and Infectious Disease Research Center, and it also hosts some NCI scientific laboratories. The aim of the talks is a collaborative effort by the three organizations to create an advanced state-of-the-art biomedical and biological research facility.

"The effort has been warmly received by each of the partners and by the entire NIH community," Dr. von Eschenbach said.

Working as a special consultant to NCI, Eric Lander, PhD, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Whitehead Institute, is creating a series of focus groups within the basic research community to examine the Institute’s scientific agenda for gaps and needs in fundamental science. "I will use this information as the basis for a strategic scientific agenda for the long term," Dr. von Eschenbach said.

NCI is providing support to a project of the National Dialogue on Cancer. This coalition of some 150 cancer groups seeks to find ways to speed up the development and approval of cancer drugs based on advances in genomics and proteomics without compromising the FDA’s criteria for safety and efficacy.

"This effort has really brought together a wide cross section of the community to look at the barriers and obstacles that are perhaps impeding our ability to accelerate and deliver new drugs to patients," Dr. von Eschenbach said.

A task force is looking at ways in which the NCI-supported cancer centers and Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs), most of which are located in NCI cancer centers, can be more effectively integrated. "It is an agenda and strategy that will really help us with a balanced portfolio," he said.