Ron and Lynda’s Excellent Adventure


Leonard Zwelling

Buried among the reports on the UT System website is one recent one to the Chancellor that describes the findings of a UT System audit of the Oncology Expert Advisor Project led by Lynda Chin until her departure from MD Anderson in 2015 (link above).

This report does not address the success or failure of the science, research or clinical applicability of this attempt to use big data to improve the care of patients with cancer. It is not a value analysis either comparing its cost with the clinical applicability or lives saved. Rather, it focuses instead on the procurement processes used by OEA to drive the project that ran to some $61.2 million to outside consultants. (The opportunity cost of using MD Anderson personnel for this effort is not factored into the expense calculation).

It turns out that this procurement part of OEA did not go well. Invoices were paid without documentation of services provided. Single source providers were hired to do IT service work without adherence to MD Anderson IT policies. There were a host of other violations noted in the report. It makes pretty dry reading. But in the mundane and banal is the evil—huge expenditures of MD Anderson resources with little oversight and no one assessing whether or not this was a good idea. No surrogate end-points. No intermediate analyses. Spend, spend, spend. Well, this explains part of the budget shortfall, I guess.

From what I can tell, the utility of the actual science and research results are still being assessed but are unlikely to have been an example of money well spent. Oh, what a surprise!

This notion that somehow if one can throw enough data into a computer you can figure out what science has not for forty plus years of the war on cancer is silly. The cancer research community does not lack for data. It lacks for the proper insight—so far. We will get there. Or maybe we won’t. But beating the thing to death with money and size is not the answer. As a good friend says, taking a ton of iron filings and determining what kind of car was the origin of the filings may well be beyond human abilities. It is not necessarily true that reducing the whole to the sum of its parts leads to understanding of the whole. A pile of marble doesn’t suggest the Statute of David by Michelangelo. This may be doubly true when the whole is the basis of life, which may well be where the key to cancer resides.

I vividly remember the launch of this OEA charade shortly after the DePinhos arrived. The video used then by Dr. Chin may well prove to be both the highlight of the project and the only part of it worth the expense. It seemed silly to me then, but perhaps worthy of a look, but boy what an expensive look! I would never have imagined this would run into the tens of millions without a hint currently that it was of value.

When you add Lynda’s folly to the many of those of her husband from nepotism, to self-dealing on national television, to conflict of interest with drug companies whose stock he owned, to a general orneriness, and now to being the financial wizard who drenched the number one cancer center in the world in red ink, the time must have arrived for the Admiral to fish or cut bait. And if Chancellor McRaven still wants to fish with this crew, his vision of productivity is far different than mine.

As for the those being led, and I mean the faculty, it is long past time for the Faculty Senate to have that vote of “no confidence” and declare who’s side it is on—that of historical excellence or that of current corruption.

This latest report should be enough for the Chancellor to take action and once and for all rid 1515 Holcombe of the shadow cast upon it by the coming of Ron and Lynda.

The current President of the United States has only a fleeting association with reality. He blames the press for the demise of the advisor he fired.

I am sure there will be much similar Trump-like hand waving about this UT System report on the part of the guilty at MD Anderson. The ball is now squarely in the Chancellor’s court. He needs to take action—yesterday.

Leonard Zwelling