The Key For MD Anderson May Not Be MD Anderson First

The Key For MD Anderson May Not Be MD Anderson First


Leonard Zwelling

One of Tom Friedman’s recurring themes, is the need for interconnectedness and adaptability for success in the modern world.

In this editorial he notes, as he has repeatedly, the effects of actual climate change, the climate change in business produced by globalization, and the changes brought on by the ability of computers to analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automatize our lives and that of all of the systems in which we operate.

This calls for adaptability if survival is the goal. In academic medicine today, the survival of the large centers hinges on their ability to adapt.

Under Ron DePinho, there was no question that it was “MD Anderson First.” His sense of cooperation was nil. He rejected outreach from Baylor and chose instead to work with companies who would pay him for what he felt was valuable intellectual property that turned out wasn’t all that valuable. How about we try something new?

The MD Anderson of tomorrow will have to learn to cooperate with the rest of the Texas Medical Center, the rest of the UT System, and the rest of the world without necessarily dominating any of these spheres. This will be something new for Anderson which was once described to me by a past president as “an 800 pound elephant.” And it once was. It is no longer.

Where once the interdisciplinary care given by Anderson was unique, it is not now. Even the Cancer Treatment Centers of America advertise the delivery of holistic care that mirrors that given at Anderson.

Where once the integrated basic and clinical research of Anderson was unique, today every comprehensive cancer center offers a menu of lab-based research, clinical trials, and clinical care that echoes what Anderson has done for years.

MD Anderson will need to learn to cooperate with others if it is to make the largest impact on the cancer problem. By sharing its vast patient materials and technical expertise with others in the Texas Medical Center with, frankly, better reputations for patient satisfaction, Anderson could grow its positive effects on the community, an area that could really use some improvement.

Development of health services research and the area of public policy as it pertains to the cancer problem, particularly that of cancer prevention, would be a wise turn for Anderson.

Finally, MD Anderson simply must arrive at the year 2017 when it comes to information systems. Any support of clinical care, clinical research, research administration, or basic research that is not at the highest possible level of efficiency must get there. I have heard from more than one person that the pharmaceutical industry still finds Anderson’s infrastructure less than conducive to doing their clinical research. This must change and change quickly as the most promising molecules and the majority of the financial support for this form of research, the heart and soul of MD Anderson for decades, comes from industry.

The current President of the United States makes a big deal about his “America First” policies and philosophy. This is not realistic in an interdependent world of constant change and interconnectedness. It is no more realistic for a single academic institution to think it can go it alone in the struggle to improve the lives of cancer patients, prevent as much cancer as possible, and push back the barriers of the unknown in basic research.

Let’s hope the new president of MD Anderson is less egocentric than the last guy or than the current occupant of the White House.

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