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HIGH-QUALITY SCIENTISTS ARE REVITALIZING ROSWELL PARK

The Jan. 12 News article on Roswell Park Cancer Institute appropriately depicts an "institute in trouble." However, some inaccuracies and omissions need correction.

The statement that "there has been no change in leadership positions since 1985" is inaccurate. Between 1988 and 1994, 15 clinical division and department chiefs were appointed. These leaders recruited about 30 clinical faculty, some with substantial research programs who were also members of basic science departments.

During this period, despite periodic hiring freezes, 17 basic science faculty were appointed and six core facilities were established providing research services to the entire institute. This represented one of the most rapid periods of growth experienced at Roswell Park.

During this time we initiated the clinical practice plan (a portion of funds directed to research and education), marketing, planning and development departments, the Roswell Park Alliance and construction of the new campus. These initiatives are important elements in the future development of research programs.

Since the article said that research had declined for a decade, I reread the recent core grant critique, and did not find such a statement. In fact, Roswell Park successfully renewed the National Institutes of Health institutional core grant twice in the past decade. The 1995 renewal received an excellent overall score and the scientific leaders, their programs and the core research facilities were nearly all rated excellent to outstanding.

It is certainly true that we had not reached our full potential in 1995, but we were off to a good start. The status of research is documented in the 1994 Roswell Park Cancer Institute External Scientific Advisory Council and the 1995 NIH core grant reports.

Roswell Park had been governed by the state Health Department since 1927, and therefore shared in any mandated hiring freezes and layoffs. Moreover, Roswell Park's budget requests required approval by the commissioner of health. Due to state budget deficits and inadequate advocacy by a new commissioner, our requests for scientific positions between 1994 and 1997 were denied. That underscored the necessity of changing governance.

In 1996, Gov. George E. Pataki accepted a task force report recommending a public benefit corporation. David Hohn has worked hard and effectively on implementing the new governance of Roswell Park.

The fundamental question is what happened between the 1995 grant with an excellent rating to the problem status in 2000. I retired as president and chief executive officer on Dec. 31, 1996. I left three years of the five-year core grant, a practice plan, a governance change in process, construction of a new hospital and research building and vivarium nearly completed and an excellent source of outside funding from the Alliance.

As a result of hiring freezes, several departments were in need of reinvigoration. By 1997, state finances had improved, enabling Hohn to hire. He has made a number of positive administrative appointments. I was, however, dismayed that 10 faculty, including four of our best basic scientists, chose to leave. This was detrimental to the institute's scientific programs particularly, because there were few offsetting new basic research appointments.

Fortunately, many excellent scientists remain. With appropriate leadership and recruitment of high-quality scientists, I believe Roswell Park can be turned around quickly. I personally look forward to the institute reaching a higher level of excellence than ever.

THOMAS TOMASI, M.D., is a former president and CEO of Roswell Park.

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