May 15, 2011-A Prescient
Article from the Houston Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman

By

Leonard Zwelling

         On Sunday, May 15, 2011, Todd Ackerman wrote a piece in the Houston Chronicle about the newly named
President to be of MD Anderson, Ronald DePinho.

Why
do I know?

I
am currently wading through my piles of news articles from the past 15 years in
preparation for writing a history of MD Anderson over this time period. The
years from 1996 to 2007 are covered by James Olson in his book Making Cancer History, but I felt he
whitewashed much of the true story that explains so much of what is happening
at the cancer center today. The truth needs to be written and what better way
than using the sources that documented that truth at the time history was made.

         Mr. Ackerman notes that Dr. DePinho was a natural successor
to John Mendelsohn in that his career, even more than Dr. Mendelsohn’s, was
heavily steeped in the genetics laboratory, the site Mendelsohn had promoted as
the source for the cancer cure. DePinho, with little if any large institutional
management experience, was deeply schooled in molecular science and might be
just the ticket to take MD Anderson into the future of personalized cancer
care. The very same James Olson is quoted in the article as saying, “who better
to lead MD Anderson into the new era than a Harvard geneticist?” Of course, I
would say, “just about anyone.”

         The article characterizes DePinho as a gamble on which the
Regents bet to get “MD Anderson there first.” MD Anderson was larger than
anything DePinho had ever managed before and, of course, is even larger now.

         The article also calls into question DePinho’s ability to
“win over the clinical faculty” as he was not an oncologist and had not cared
for patients in many years. Rather DePinho’s “glamor” and  “entrepreneurial spirit” were touted as he
was a very high profile scientist and had developed a company, Aveo, with a
drug being prepared for market.

         In a truly insightful quote from John Mendelsohn, Dr. DePinho’s
predecessor, the third MD Anderson President notes, “all MD Anderson presidents
have built upon the shoulders and settings created by their predecessors, a
tradition I’m sure Dr. DePinho will continue.”

         And continue it he did.

         Much like Dr. Mendelsohn, Dr. DePinho got involved with the
private sector and drug companies unable to perform successful clinical trials
actually eclipsing Dr. Mendelsohn’s bad judgment by promoting his own drug
company on national television while appearing as a representative of a state
institution. The drug failed dismally and the company is on the ropes as well.

         By far, Dr. DePinho has out-stripped Dr. Mendelsohn in
alienating the faculty, clinical and otherwise, and the MD Anderson community
at-large exactly because he was so inept at running a large institution and he surrounded
himself with less than adequate support in the form of insightful or
experienced leaders who could balance his inexperience.

         The jury on the molecular miracle of personalized medicine
is still out and it may or may not prove to be the history making breakthrough
that Dr. Mendelsohn predicted it would be.

         Once
again, a product of that upper-middle class boys’ institution of higher
learning in Cambridge, Massachusetts has wrought havoc on another world-class
system of health care delivery and brought it to its knees with scandal after
scandal overlying with it a true gift for mismanagement and downright meanness.

         It’s always fun to look back at the newspaper to see how
insightful the first draft of history was. In this case, Mr. Ackerman was right
on target.

         Much to our chagrin.

Leonard Zwelling