Courtesy of Eric Winer

On Feb. 1, 2022, Eric P. Winer ’78 MED ’83 will become director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Health. 

Winer is currently a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior vice president for medical affairs at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. After running the breast cancer program at Dana-Farber for around 20 years, he plans to return to New Haven early next year to oversee clinical care and cancer research at Yale.

“I think that Yale in the next five years should be absolutely one of the premier cancer centers in the United States,” Winer said. “It’s a very strong center, but it has never been quite at the very top of the list … Yale should be a place that is thought of in the very best terms.”

Winer said his forthcoming job will be two-pronged: he will oversee the Yale Cancer Center’s research portfolio — including lab-based research, clinical research, health services research and epidemiology —  and he will oversee all clinical care.

Winer said he plans to work on solving key issues in present-day cancer care. These solutions involve developing new and better treatments, ensuring an equitable distribution of cancer care, coming up with ways to deliver less painful treatments and tackling the “ridiculously expensive” costs of cancer care. He placed particular emphasis on his goal of increasing equity in medical treatment.

“In breast cancer [for example], if we did nothing more than make sure that everybody gets the same care that the upper middle-class white woman with education and insurance gets in the United States, we would do more than making any other discovery,” said Winer. “We have to fix it both by putting in place new programs but also by doing research so we understand how to deliver that care in the most effective way possible.”

As a former Yale student in the undergraduate program and at the medical school, Winer looks forward to feeling like a part of the University again, he said. He expressed excitement about being able to see and interact with undergraduate and graduate students as a part of his daily life, along with having lunch at his old residential college, Ezra Stiles.

Winer has already started talking to people at Yale to help accelerate his transition come February. His long-time colleagues highlight his ability to connect and collaborate with others.

“[Winer] is someone who has the skill set to bring people together to have the bigger overarching vision of what is needed to provide not only the best patient care, but also to make sure people are performing at their best,” said Antonio C. Wolff, professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “He is a great listener … He can quickly figure out what are the common threads that could allow individuals to work together.”

Ian E. Krop, associate chief of the division of breast oncology at Dana-Farber, credits Winer with building the breast group at Dana-Farber into one of the largest in the country that is conducting cutting-edge clinical research and advancing the field. 

“[Winer] is an excellent physician, widely considered one of the most prominent breast oncologists in the world,” Krop said. “He has a very patient-focused, patient-centered type of research agenda. Now, he’s not only trying to improve treatment for breast cancer, but he’s trying to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that minimizes side effects, which I think is not always the case. Sometimes there’s a feeling of just trying to figure out what’s the most effective next drug … He takes a more holistic approach.”

Krop explains that Winer has developed the “de-escalation approach,” in which doctors explore if patients can be treated with less therapy. According to Krop, multiple studies around the world are now examining this approach, a movement “sparked” by Winer. 

Winer is also appreciated for his mentorship abilities. Having been a leader at Dana-Farber for many years, he has advised numerous doctors and students.

“Winer is a visionary leader, a consummate mentor,” said Ann H. Partridge, vice chair in the department of medical oncology at Dana-Farber. “He knows how to take care of direct people and lead them. He knows how to mentor young people … and keeps giving you the best that he can be. He also doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Nancy U. Lin, associate chief of the division of breast oncology at Dana-Farber, has known Winer since 2002, when she was a breast medical oncology fellow at the cancer institute. She believes that he fosters a “harmonious,” caring environment.

Having worked with him in the clinic and also during her fellowship training in clinical care and clinical research, Lin especially admires Winer’s commitment to his work, she said.

“[Winer] inspires people to the mission, and he’s so passionate about the cause of breast cancer that you can’t help but be passionate as well when you’re around him,” Lin said. “I am where I am today because of Dr. Winer … He also is somebody who really cares about his mentees and not just the output of their academic work … [he] cares about us as people.” 

Winer, who studied Russian history as an undergraduate, said he advises young students to pursue what they are passionate about.

Now, Winer feels ready to shift his career path back to Yale. Winer had been “asked to look at” the job twice before in 2010 and 2016, but he declined both times because he was engaged in the work he was doing.

“Now, I’m at the point in my career where I have a lot of energy still, and I have one big job left in me,” Winer said. “The idea of being able to lead a whole cancer program was really appealing to me … I mean to this day, I can remember …when I got my college acceptance to Yale. And I remember the pure glee and joy that I experienced, and I keep thinking back on that moment. I really love Yale … For me, this is the perfect job. I’ve been smiling for the past, however many days since it became clear that this was going to happen.”

In the months leading up to his Yale arrival, Winer said he wants to tie up any loose ends at Dana-Farber, leaving it in a respectful way.

“I need to spend some time mentoring people,” Winer said. “I need to take care of my patients … to make sure they’re all set up with care … Finally, I have a number of research programs. I need to figure out which of those are transitioning to Yale and who’s going to take over the others that are staying at Dana-Farber.”

In the United States, around 13 percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes.

SOPHIE WANG
Sophie Wang covers COVID-19 and Yale New-Haven Health. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a freshman in Berkeley College prospectively majoring in statistics & data science and English.