Simmons Cancer Center Director, Associate Dean named Chief Scientific Officer for CPRIT
DALLAS – January 19, 2016 – Dr. James K.V. Willson, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs, and Professor and Director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has been named Chief Scientific Officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), effective March 1.
Dr. Willson led UT Southwestern’s successful efforts to have the Simmons Cancer Center recognized with Comprehensive status from the National Cancer Institute, its highest designation, making it one of only 45 cancer centers nationally to receive this distinction over the past 44 years, and the first and only facility in North Texas to receive this distinction.
“Dr. Willson has provided outstanding leadership as Director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern, as reflected in the enormous growth of both its groundbreaking research program and superb care for cancer patients,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, who holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. “CPRIT and the State of Texas are fortunate that Dr. Willson will bring his great expertise and experience to the vitally important position of Chief Scientific Officer. We will be forever grateful for his contributions to UT Southwestern over the past decade and wish him well in his new role.”
As Chief Scientific Officer at CPRIT, Dr. Willson will lead the agency’s academic research program in supporting innovation in cancer research and recruiting world-class cancer researchers to Texas institutions. To date, CPRIT has awarded 806 academic research grants totaling $1.046 billion, and CPRIT funding has helped bring 104 distinguished cancer researchers to Texas.
“I was attracted to this position because it provides an opportunity to expand the frontiers of cancer research by encouraging new discoveries with real potential to transform the way cancer is treated,” said Dr. Willson, who holds The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology at UT Southwestern. “I look forward to building on the exceptional contributions and high standards of excellence of my predecessors – Drs. Margaret Kripke and Al Gilman.”
The late Nobel Laureate Dr. Alfred G. Gilman, Regental Professor Emeritus, former Chairman of Pharmacology and Dean of the UT Southwestern Medical School, as well as former Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at UT Southwestern, served as CPRIT’s first Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Willson replaces Dr. Kripke, who retired after serving as CPRIT’s Chief Scientific Officer since 2012.
“With Jim’s addition, we have the team in place to accelerate CPRIT’s momentum,” said Wayne Roberts, CPRIT’s Chief Executive Officer. “He’ll catalyze basic cancer science and synergize translation of scientific discovery into therapies to prevent, mitigate, and cure cancer.”
Dr. Willson has spent more than 30 years in the field and is renowned for his work in the genetics of colorectal cancer. His research led to the development of cell and animal models for human colon cancer that have been key to identifying genetic factors in disease progression. His most recent research focuses on identification of novel molecular targets for cancer therapy. In 2015, he led a collaborative team study that identified a molecule that may play a significant role in accelerating cell recovery following bone marrow transplants, liver disease, and colon disease.
Dr. Willson joined UT Southwestern in 2004 and began the process for securing NCI designation and building the Simmons Cancer Center’s research and clinical enterprises. In addition to attracting many nationally recognized cancer researchers and clinicians who now lead more than a dozen specialties at the Simmons Cancer Center, Dr. Willson helped oversee expansion of its research and clinical facilities at the North Campus, expansion into Richardson and into Fort Worth at the Moncrief Cancer Institute, and the oncology floor at UT Southwestern’s new William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. The Simmons Cancer Center focuses on the whole patient with innovative treatments, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. In addition, the Simmons Cancer Center is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site by the NCI, and the only cancer center in North Texas to be so designated.
Prior to joining UT Southwestern, Dr. Willson spent 10 years as the Director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, which also received a top NCI designation during his tenure. Dr. Willson did his undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and earned his M.D. from the University of Alabama in 1976. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1981 and received additional training at the NCI.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has included six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of almost 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in about 80 specialties to more than 92,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.
Media Contact: Russell Rian
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