Downing, internationally recognized as a genome sequencing pioneer and member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, becomes sixth leader to serve at hospital’s helm
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced today the appointment of James R. Downing, M.D., as its new CEO, effective July 15, 2014. Downing most recently has served as the Deputy Director, Executive Vice President and Scientific Director of the hospital, which is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Downing’s primary focus immediately upon assuming the CEO office will be to oversee a new era of clinical, research and infrastructure expansion throughout the St. Jude global network. He succeeds Dr. William E. Evans, who is retiring from the position after 10 years and returning full time to his long-standing pharmacogenomics research program at St. Jude.
Downing’s work as a genome sequencing pioneer, overseeing the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, was recognized in 2012 by TIME magazine as one of the Top 100 new scientific discoveries. “Dr. Downing is an exceptional scientist whose visionary approach to the next era of growth and discovery at St. Jude will mirror the legacy established by Danny Thomas more than 50 years ago,” said Terry Burman, chairman of the St. Jude Board of Governors. “Dr. Downing’s seminal contributions to understanding genetic origins of disease, as both the catalyst and leader of the St. Jude Pediatric Cancer Genome Project initiatives, have laid a foundation for a new period of research and treatment of childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.”
“It is my responsibility as the new CEO of St. Jude to ensure that St. Jude remains the global leader in the fight against pediatric cancer and other deadly illnesses, continuing to set the global agenda to achieve our mission to advance cures,” Downing said. “Today’s intersection of science and technology is paving the way for unprecedented discovery and innovative treatment. I am honored to lead an institution that values collaboration and daring, forward-thinking investigation; an institution where the translational goal of our research makes it impossible to separate research from patient care; an organization that provides unsurpassed care for today as we work to identify the next advances and improve cure rates for tomorrow.”
Taking the reins of the institution that is home to the only NIH/NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children, Downing outlined his vision for St. Jude’s next generation of clinical and research expansion, inspired by the responsibility of leading a global enterprise that is nearly 75 percent funded by the general public. This will include:
- Continuing growth in the number of cancer patients treated on the St. Jude campus;
- Expansion of the institution’s treatment and research program on pediatric solid tumors, to address the plateau of global progress over the last decade where new efforts are desperately needed;
- A significant expansion of St. Jude’s International Outreach Program, a global effort that is focused on teaching practitioners in developing countries how to effectively treat children with cancer, as well as the global expansion of St. Jude-led treatment studies;
- Through the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, St. Jude will incorporate an unprecedented level of comprehensive genomic analyses into the clinical work-up of every child treated;
- Growth in the number of patients enrolled on the St. Jude LIFE long-term follow-up survivor study, a program that is helping to define the long-term health problems of survivors of pediatric cancer and determine how to effectively manage and ultimately eliminate these medical problems;
- Establish a formalized patient advocacy consortium, in partnership with existing organizations, to better serve the patient-family community, including acceleration of federal and private drug therapy development and approvals.
“There is no institution in the world like St. Jude., so it is not surprising that following an extensive global search, the St. Jude Board of Governors found the most qualified and best prepared person here at St. Jude – Dr. Jim Downing,” said Dr. Evans. “Jim is inheriting a 52-year legacy of unparalleled medical discovery and innovative clinical trials that take on the toughest cases, all made possible by unwavering public support of donors and partners from around the world. Jim and I have worked very closely for the last decade, and I know he will do an extraordinary job as my successor.”
“Dr. Downing is truly a visionary scientific and medical leader who has dedicated much of his professional life to St. Jude,” said Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude and the nation’s second largest health care charity. “I look forward to working in partnership with him as we continue to advance St. Jude’s mission as the global leader in the treatment and research of pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases afflicting children.”
“Having tried to attract Jim Downing to my own institutions over many years, I am well-positioned to congratulate St. Jude and to say with confidence that Jim has all the qualities—intellectual and social—that will guarantee St. Jude's sustained success as a center for cancer research and care,” said Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, M.D., National Cancer Institute director
“Jim Downing is the perfect choice to guide St. Jude at this exciting time in cancer therapy, where science and medicine are so closely intertwined,” said Charles Sawyers, M.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Chairman of Human Oncology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “He has the right blend of laboratory and clinical expertise, plus a strong track record in building and leading effective teams to tackle big challenges. As a member of the St. Jude Scientific Advisory Board, I am looking forward to seeing them climb to new heights.”
“Jim is an outstanding choice to lead St. Jude,” said William G. Kaelin Jr., M.D., professor of Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. “He is widely admired in the scientific community as an innovator and thought leader in cancer genomics and cancer pathogenesis. During my tenure on the St. Jude Scientific Advisory Board, I witnessed firsthand Jim’s remarkable grasp of the many interconnected activities at St. Jude that, collectively, make it the national treasure that it is today. He is a soft-spoken, humble person who commands respect because of his many scientific accomplishments coupled with his well-deserved reputation for fairness and sound judgment. I simply cannot think of a better person to lead St. Jude into the future."
Downing will be the sixth CEO since the hospital opened in 1962. For more background and biography information on Downing, visit www.stjude.org/Downing-bio.
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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other deadly diseases. St. Jude has the world’s best survival rates for the most aggressive childhood cancers, and treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since we opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude is working to drive the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs we make, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food—because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow us at @stjuderesearch.