Ron DePinho, the president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is under fire, after an internal survey found frustration among the institution’s faculty over its leadership and direction.
The survey, obtained and posted by the Cancer Letter, documents what the newsletter calls a “decline of morale” among the 514 people who responded to the survey. They represent roughly one-third of the institution’s 1,592 faculty.
The faculty who responded to the survey appear concerned with what they perceive as an unreasonably high clinical workload, departure of leaders who have nurtured the institution, concern over DePinho’s US$3-billion ‘Moon Shots’ programme, focused on eight cancers, and dissatisfaction with what one faculty member called DePinho’s “dictatorial” and “imperious” style.
Particularly troubling to the faculty have been continuing conflict-of-interest issues linked to DePinho that have drawn negative publicity to the institution.
In May, the state-taxpayer-funded Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), based in Austin, said that it would review a grant that it had awarded to DePinho’s wife, Lynda Chin, who had been named
scientific director* of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science, a drug-discovery centre created by DePinho. The grant, worth $18 million a year, had not undergone a scientific review.
Then, in June, DePinho apologized for promoting on television the stock of a company that he co-founded, without disclosing his involvement with the company.
One faculty member writes in the survey of being “so tired of having to answer questions from other Houstonians about why MD Anderson is going downhill/always in the [Houston] Chronicle.”
DePinho responds in an e-mail to the Cancer Letter than the feedback was “humbling”.
“That survey was taken during a tough period at MD Anderson, and the results reflect it,” DePinho said in an e-mail, the Cancer Letter reports.
“I am committed to conducting a future scientific survey of faculty to make sure we continue this open channel for feedback. This is a period of change for healthcare and science, but also one of unprecedented opportunity,” DePinho told the Cancer Letter.
The Cancer Letter notes that it is difficult to tell whether the sentiments expressed in the survey reflect those of the majority of the faculty.
In response to a previous article in the Cancer Letter, the publication notes, a group of 36 faculty from the institution objected to the publication’s ongoing coverage of the MD Anderson controversies.
“The complaints of a few have led to inaccurate articles that have unfairly tarnished the institution’s reputation by presenting a false picture of what is actually taking place,” the group asserts.
*This post was corrected to reflect that Chin is the scientific director, and that Giulio Draetta is the director, of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science.