The recently announced retirement of Dr. Donald L. Trump after seven years as president and CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, effective Dec. 31, comes as something of a shock.
With much of the region’s hope for a resurgence pinned on the burgeoning Medical Campus and with Roswell Park at the center of it all, this seems a difficult time to change leaders. For Trump, 68, the time has come and the community should offer him its thanks.
Trump has kept Roswell Park focused on its mission of cancer care, education and research during an extremely stressful time in its history.
A year ago Roswell Park’s very existence was threatened. The center not only weathered that storm, on July 1 came the welcome news that its designation as a comprehensive cancer center had been continued. The National Cancer Institute will renew a core federal grant for five more years, providing Roswell Park with $19 million. That is much less than the $24 million that it had requested, but in line with general cuts in cancer funding.
The comprehensive cancer center designation is critical for Roswell Park, helping to attract researchers, other government and industry grants and charitable donations. Under Trump’s leadership, center officials worked extremely hard to put together the 1,273-page application submitted in the spring of 2013.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo traveled to the center to announce the grant, and he aptly called Roswell Park a “treasure.” It is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the country, but even so is not immune to state scrutiny and the threat of cutbacks.
Annual state support for Roswell Park remained stable in 2014 at $102 million as the state backed off its threat to make Roswell Park “operationally independent” of the state. In continuing to fund Roswell Park, Cuomo made the right decision for Buffalo and for cancer treatment in general.
Critics who say $102 million a year is too much to spend on a 100-bed hospital are missing the larger point. That money is also funding cutting-edge research into new ways to fight cancer, including gene-based treatments and immunotherapy.
Rather than keeping support steady, now is the time to increase funding for Roswell Park, given the potential to make it into a stronger contender among cancer institutes. More money means more researchers, increasing the chances for revenue-producing patents of groundbreaking tests and therapies.
Michael Joseph, chairman of Roswell Park’s board of directors, has pledged to “embark on a national search” for Trump’s replacement. Finding a strong leader is vital to protecting and growing the cancer institute’s reputation. Roswell Park ranked 11th in the state among all hospitals but only 50th in the country among cancer centers, according to the U.S. News 2014-15 Best Hospitals survey.
Trump came to Roswell Park in January 2002, serving as senior vice president for clinical research, chairman of the department of medicine and co-principal investigator of the Cancer Center Support Grant, funded by the National Cancer Institute. He was named president and CEO on April 1, 2007.
He has met numerous challenges as leader of an institution that was founded in 1898 as the nation’s first cancer hospital. In 1999 Roswell Park was converted into a public benefit corporation, a change that allowed flexibility in budgeting and pursuing new ways of doing business.
As a Buffalo News story last year about Roswell Park’s path indicated, the institute has been able to attract more research grants, recruit top-flight scientists and increase revenue, which have contributed to the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The institute in April broke ground for a $50.5 million Clinical Sciences Center.
Trump has accomplished much extraordinary work during his tenure. We wish him well and thank him for his service during challenging times.
The next president of Roswell Park will have much to build on as he tackles the difficult task of taking the institution to the next level.