Cancer Center appoints new director

Harvard professor Thomas Lynch ’82 MED ’86 was introduced Wednesday as the next director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician in chief for the new Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale–New Haven Hospital, slated to open in October.

A lung cancer expert, Lynch is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the chief of hematology and oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Thomas J. Lynch Jr. was named the director of the Yale Cancer Center.
Florence Dethy
Thomas J. Lynch Jr. was named the director of the Yale Cancer Center.

His appointment — which is effective April 1 and will last five years — marks the end of a yearlong search process and signals a new beginning for Yale’s embattled cancer research program. A former Yale undergraduate and medical school student, Lynch was a veritable steal from Harvard, Dean of Yale Medical School Robert Alpern said, adding that there was widespread speculation that Lynch would not accept the job offer.

“Tom was clearly the best candidate,” Alpern said in an interview. “He is an incredible clinician and researcher, and he has incredible leadership skills.”

In an interview with the News on Wednesday afternoon, Lynch said he is excited to shape the vision for the Cancer Center and Smilow Hospital.

He said his four primary goals are to recruit a director for West Campus’s cancer biology core facility, expand the Cancer Center’s clinical trial infrastructure, institute safety and quality performance metrics, and form key multidisciplinary teams.

“I want the Yale Cancer Center to be the best hospital-based cancer center in the country,” Lynch said.

Just a few years ago, Lynch’s goal would have been almost unthinkable.

When outgoing Director Richard Edelson took the Cancer Center’s helm in 2003, the center’s clinical expertise was lacking and required internal restructuring, Edelson told the News last year. At the time, there was concern that the Cancer Center’s core grant from the National Cancer Institute, which supports the majority of its research, would not be renewed, Alpern said.

But Edelson secured the five-year renewal, allowing the center to continue its research activities and establish comprehensive status, the most prestigious level of designation from the NCI. He also repaired the center’s relationship with Y-NH by directing portions of patient revenues toward the center and bringing the Yale School of Medicine’s medical oncology department under the center’s supervision, giving it a greater say in faculty appointments.

Now, Alpern said, the Cancer Center is “in a much stronger position” — and, going forward, one of the medical school’s and Y-NH’s highest priorities.

“As we prepare to open Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven,” Chief Executive Officer of Yale-New Haven Hospital Marna Borgstrom said, “we’re delighted that Dr. Lynch will provide the medical leadership that interweaves clinical expertise with compassionate, family-centered care for our patients.”

When Smilow opens, it will consolidate the Cancer Center’s clinical research activities — which are presently scattered in several locations around campus — as well as provide space for their expansion, Alpern said. Early-stage research, meanwhile, will continue to take place on the medical school campus, and soon on West Campus, where the medical school will have a floor of laboratory space dedicated to cancer research, he said.

A major part of Lynch’s time will be spent on recruitment for not only the center but also West Campus’s cancer biology team. While recruitment will involve an initial monetary investment, Lynch said, new hires will ultimately be supported by research grants.

Lynch said West Campus — which he said has “enormous” potential for advancing cancer research — significantly influenced his decision to accept Yale’s offer, as did the University’s relative financial stability compared to its peer institutions in the economic crunch.

At least initially, Lynch said he will concentrate on recruiting a director to set up West Campus’s cancer biology core facility — one of three core facilities planned for the 1.6 million-square-foot campus. By bringing cancer biologists into contact with researchers with different areas of specialization, West Campus will help promote the best development of new treatments, he added.

The Yale Cancer Center is just one of 39 National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer centers, and it is the only such center in New England. Smilow Cancer Hospital, which is currently under construction, is the product of a partnership among the Yale Cancer Center, Yale School of Medicine and Yale–New Haven Hospital.

Outgoing Director Edelson announced his resignation in January of last year.

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