Famed researcher Dr. Kim Lyerly, who helped develop the AIDS breakthrough drug AZT and served as the leader of a top-notch breast cancer research program, was recently named Director of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center by Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. Sandy Williams.
In the last five years, the Cancer Center has rapidly become one of the top programs in the nation, said Dr. Michael Colvin, the previous director of the center, who will now devote himself full-time to laboratory research. Colvin pointed to Lyerly's strength in research and his ability to link basic science to clinical applications as being ideal characteristics for a leader of the center.
"The Cancer Center is the focal point for basic science and clinical research," said Lyerly, professor of surgery and assistant professor of immunology. "The big challenge is how to prioritize the opportunities that exist in cancer research, how to prioritize our resources to tackle cancer... and balance the support to cure rare versus common cancers."
With this challenge is a mandate to collaborate with the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, one of the University's most important new programs. Lyerly said he expects the Cancer Center to complement the IGSP, and vice versa, ensuring a harmonious team.
"Synergistic relationships between the Cancer Center, the IGSP, the [Duke Clinical Research Institute] and our departments are critical, and Dr. Lyerly is proficient in negotiating such interactions," Williams wrote in an e-mail. Lyerly similarly emphasized the need to explore the relationship between the Cancer Center and DCRI.
Lyerly comes to the post with experience in one of the center's core areas.
"I was impressed by his record of successful leadership of the Breast Cancer [Specialized Program Of Research Excellence]... and his understanding of tumor immunology," Williams wrote.
Only 40 SPORE grants exist nationwide, and the Cancer Center boasts two, for breast and brain cancer.
Lyerly also cited the center's programs in cancer genetics, cell signaling, and immunotherapy as being very strong. Looming near is the Feb. 1, 2004 deadline for the center to resubmit its grant request to the National Cancer Institute, and the strength of these programs is critical to maintaining adequate funding.
Once an intern at Duke, Lyerly continued his residency in the department of surgery, where the chair at that time emphasized basic science research. As a result, Lyerly got involved in AIDS drug research at Duke in the 1980s with Dani Bolognesi, one of the premier AIDS drug researchers in the world. Lyerly also pioneered strategies targeting virally associated tumors with viral-specific immune cells and was the first to show this technique to be effective in eradicating tumors in mice - an approach that is now in clinical practice.
Chief of Surgery Dr. Randal Bollinger said Lyerly is "a superb scientist and surgical oncologist."
Bollinger cited the nine active National Institutes of Health grants for which Lyerly is principal investigator as being a "phenomenal" record. Additionally, Lyerly co-directs the NCI-sponsored workshop of cancer clinical trials.
"There are a lot of opportunities for cancer research that didn't exist five years ago," Lyerly said. "It's an exciting time."
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