On October 8, 1904, a group of Philadelphia physicians and businessmen who were concerned about the escalating incidence of cancer in the city signed a charter that established the American Oncologic Hospital, one of the nation’s first hospitals solely devoted to cancer care. Seven decades later—2 years after President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act—the American Oncologic Hospital united with the Institute for Cancer Research to form Fox Chase Cancer Center.
In many ways, the history of Fox Chase Cancer Center is a snapshot of the history of American oncology, encompassing landmark discoveries and challenging times alike. Fox Chase’s history is also one of exemplary leadership, having a long list of internationally recognized physicians serving as presidents and CEOs. The ASCO Post spoke with Fox Chase’s recently appointed President and CEO, Richard I. Fisher, MD, an internationally recognized oncologist/hematologist. Dr. Fisher shared his vision for Fox Chase’s future and how he plans to deal with the challenges of today’s tumultuous economic and political environment.
Please tell the readers a bit about the career path that brought you to Fox Chase.
After finishing my training at Harvard College Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, my oncology career actually began at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), where I was a clinical associate and then a senior attending physician. It was at NCI that I developed my interest in malignant lymphoma. I subsequently participated in many of the early trials in that area. I was fortunate to have worked with Drs. Robert C. Young and Vincent T. DeVita, Jr, as well as many other esteemed leaders in medical oncology.
After leaving the NCI, I went to Chicago and helped develop what became the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University. Following that, I went to the University of Rochester School of Medicine as Director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. I was there until last year, when I was given the opportunity to come to Philadelphia and serve as Physician-in-Chief and Executive Vice President of Fox Chase. Within a couple of months, I was promoted to President and CEO.
What does being the head of Fox Chase mean to you?
Fox Chase is one of the four original freestanding cancer centers in the nation. It was also one of the earliest institutions selected as an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center. It has a glorious history in American oncology, with a long list of accomplishments and leaders, including two Nobel Laureates, who have contributed to the advances in cancer care we see today.
Moreover, for many years Fox Chase was run by one of my early mentors, Dr. Robert C. Young, which makes it even more special for me to assume the institute’s leadership. The institution’s place in American oncology combined with its potential to help advance cancer care in a number of ways makes it a special opportunity for me.
Is Fox Chase well positioned to meet the challenges of today’s difficult economic environment?
During these challenging times, Fox Chase has had its trials and tribulations. However, since we’ve become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Temple University Health System, Fox Chase has the opportunity to thrive in a stable academic health system, which mitigates a portion of the fiscal uncertainty associated with freestanding cancer centers in today’s tough economic climate.
That said, I do believe it’s going to be difficult for most of the freestanding cancer centers to remain independent in this new world of health care. So I think Fox Chase is being observed by other centers to see how we adjust to the challenges ahead.
Given your strong background in clinical research, have you identified any priorities for Fox Chase moving forward?
Fox Chase has traditionally been focused on solid tumor investigations. For instance, ovarian cancer research has been one of the institution’s premier programs, based largely on the work of leaders in the field such as Robert Young and Robert Ozols.
Along with its research in other solid tumors, Fox Chase has done some work in hematologic malignancies but certainly not enough. We plan to develop a major hematologic malignancy initiative at the institution, which will incorporate the Temple bone marrow transplant program. To that end, we are in the process of recruiting new leadership for the program. We eventually plan to have one of the country’s premier blood cancer programs thriving here at Fox Chase.
If you were addressing a group of promising medical students, what motivations would you give them for choosing a career in the difficult field of oncology?
First and foremost, oncology offers a rare opportunity for bright young medical students to make a difference at the individual patient level and for society as a whole. The science of oncology is moving forward rapidly, improving patient outcomes at a pace never seen before. Equally important, oncologists develop intimate, long-term relationships with patients and their families. So oncology, with its unique blend of cutting-edge science and humanity, gives the best of both worlds for those who choose it as their career. ■