Schilsky named associate dean for clinical research

July 1, 1999

Cancer specialist Richard L. Schilsky, MD, professor of medicine, was named the associate dean for clinical research in the Division of the Biological Sciences, effective July 1, 1999.

This new position was created to strengthen existing clinical research, develop novel programs within the division, and position the Hospitals to remain a leader in clinical testing of promising new medications.

"The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge is our core academic mission," said Dr. Schilsky, "and clinical research, the application of basic science discoveries to improve treatment outcomes and devise better detection and prevention strategies, is a crucial component of that mission."

Dr. Schilsky's mandate is to consolidate and enhance the clinical research infrastructure throughout the division. That includes setting up training programs for faculty and staff on the methods and requirements of research involving human subjects, adding new quality improvement programs to ensure the scientific validity of all clinical research data, and making certain that every aspect of all clinical research is in compliance with current and anticipated regulations--an issue that has recently come to the fore following federal sanctions against several academic medical centers.

"Our goal is to have reliable, tested systems in place that will enable our scientists to bring their own innovative ideas into the clinical arena safely, quickly and efficiently, but that will also make our institution an attractive place for drug or medical equipment companies with exciting new agents," said Dr. Schilsky. "There's more competition for sponsored research than ever before, but there is much more opportunity to take part in truly innovative clinical studies."

The first steps include appointing a faculty advisory committee on clinical research and setting up a clinical trials office to provide oversight and serve as a single point of contact for inquiries from the pharmaceutical industry. That office will establish a clinical research curriculum committee, which will organize formal training programs for all investigators and their staffs, as well as seminar series on aspects of clinical research. It will also include a biostatistics advisory group, developed jointly with by Ron Thisted, PhD, chairman of health studies, to help investigators plan efficient, informative trials and collect and analyze their data.

The next steps will involve centralizing data management and setting up systems to coordinate patient recruitment, registration and follow-up--not just for trials at the Hospitals but for multi-centered national trials as well.

"None of this is simple," notes Dr. Schilsky, citing the example of billing. Patients choose university hospitals because they have multiple complex medical problems. "Maybe we can treat some problems with standard therapies," he explained, "but for other problems the best solution might involve a clinical trial." Trying to separate the expenses that should then be covered as research from clinical expenses requires care and diligence, but it's "absolutely crucial" to get it right.

Dr. Schilsky brings considerable research and clinical experience to the post. As director of the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center for eight years, he managed the growth of one of the Medical Center's leading and best organized clinical research teams. He has also served for five years, and will remain, as chairman of the Cancer and Leukemia Group B--one of the largest and oldest cancer clinical trials groups in the country. More recently, he was appointed chair of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, which recommends action on all new anti-cancer agents. He was also recently nominated to become a member of the National Cancer Institute's Board of Scientific Advisors.

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