Dr. Donald L. Trump set out an agenda in 2007 when he took over as head of Roswell Park Cancer Institute to recruit new scientists and doctors, expand care to a wider geographic area and target promising areas for research.
He accomplished it, the chairman of the cancer center’s board of directors said Tuesday after Trump announced he will retire at the end of the year.
“His tenure has been a wonderful one,” said Michael Joseph, who also is the president of Clover Management Inc.
Stability, steady growth and focused scientific goals describe Trump’s stewardship of Roswell Park, the original anchor tenant at the booming Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the institution around which everything else has developed.
The profitability of the cancer center increased in 2013 by 7 percent, an annual rate that marked much of Trump’s stay as CEO, as revenue from medical care and grants increased, Joseph said.
Among other things, the institute in recent years recruited more than 137 new physicians and researchers, many of them new faculty positions and not replacements; it invested in research on genomics, cancer vaccines and Vitamin D, as well as prostate cancer treatment; and it expanded partnerships with smaller hospitals throughout Western New York.
“Skip (Trump’s nickname) was instrumental in recruiting top people in research, education and clinical work. He was critical to our efforts to develop satellites,” Joseph said.
Trump’s announcement follows the successful renewal of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Center Support Grant for five more years. The decision also extended Roswell Park’s designation as a comprehensive cancer center.
Roswell Park will receive $19 million with the “core grant” over five years. The money is important, but the designation represents a seal of approval that helps attract researchers, other government and industry grants, and charitable donations.
The cancer center received an “outstanding” distinction from the National Cancer Institute reviewers.
Roswell Park last year started construction on a $50.5 million Clinical Sciences Center, the first new construction at the cancer center since 2007 and the first expansion related to medical care since 1998.
The facility will include an expanded mammography center, a chemo-infusion clinic, and education and survivorship programs for patients and their families. Joseph said Trump viewed the building as critical to the needs and mission of the institute.
Patient education plays an important role in cancer care, and a longtime leader of a local support group gave the institute good grades for its efforts.
“I don’t know Dr. Trump, but Roswell Park has done a good job of reaching out to groups like ours,” said Hillary Ruchlin, director of the Cancer Wellness Center of Western New York. “Our volunteers circulate throughout the hospital.”
Joseph said Trump’s retirement came as a surprise but makes a certain sense.
“He did what he could accomplish. To do anything more would be a long-term endeavor, longer than he wanted to stay,” he said.
Joseph plans to quickly appoint a committee that will choose a firm to conduct a national search for a replacement, a process he hopes to finish in the next two weeks. He anticipates it will take nine to 12 months to find a successor.
Trump, 68, came to Roswell Park in January 2002 as the heir apparent to then-CEO Dr. David Hohn, serving as senior vice president for clinical research, chairman of the department of medicine and co-principal investigator of the Cancer Center Support Grant.
He was recruited from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute along with Candace S. Johnson, Roswell Park’s deputy director and chairwoman of the department of pharmacology and therapeutics.
The two have worked as a team. With Trump’s departure, she has taken on the additional title of principal investigator of the comprehensive cancer center core grant and will report directly to the institute’s board of directors instead of to the chief executive officer.
Joseph said the change reflects a desire by the board to split the leadership between one individual who concentrates on science and research, and another who focuses on the business and clinical operations side of the organization. Similar arrangements are found at many other cancer centers by virtue of their being part of universities.
“Health care has become so complicated that you need people with different sets of skills,” Joseph said. “We can also search for someone for the business side who doesn’t necessarily have to be a doctor or scientist.”
Johnson said she is excited by the new position because it capitalizes on her strengths.
“My passion is the science and research,” she said.
Renewal of the cancer center core grant and designation required extensive preparation, including a 1,273-page application documenting the work at Roswell Park.
The process usually arouses anxiety at cancer centers, especially with federal budget constraints on funding and national prestige on the line. Roswell Park went without a costly site visit by 25 scientific reviewers under a new policy for cancer centers in good standing.
“It was a risky thing to do because you’re going to be judged just on a written document. But Skip showed leadership. We thought we were good enough, and it worked,” said Johnson, who also praised Trump for his research background.
“He was an investigator before he was an institute director, and he has an extremely keen scientific mind,” she said.
Joseph D. McDonald, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health system, came to know Trump over the years as they discussed ways to partner.
“He is very receptive to being a partner instead of trying to capture all of the oncology work,” he said.
The collaborations between the institutions range from jointly recruiting physicians to treat both Catholic Health and Roswell Park patients to making it easier for Catholic Health cancer patients in outlying communities get routine blood work done closer to home, he said.