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Q and A with Ed Holmes

Edward W. Holmes, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine at UCSD has announced that he will be leaving UCSD at the end of September to join the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore and the National University of Singapore, to help oversee efforts in translational medical research. Holmes, 65, was recruited to UCSD in 2000 from Duke University, where he was Dean and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the Duke University School of Medicine. He reflects here on his tenure at UCSD.

For more information: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2006/04_04_Holmes

Q

How long have you been at UCSD?

Holmes: I came to UCSD on Sept. 15 2000. It’s been 5 ½ years.

Q

What do you consider your biggest achievements here?

Holmes: First, I don’t like to think of it in terms of my achievements. It’s a team effort. This is a big organization. Whatever we’ve accomplished is the result of us pulling together. We, and I emphasize we, have been able to bring a number of new people onto our leadership team. The opportunity to bring new academic chairs, new center directors and senior administrators to UCSD is something that I’m particularly proud of and that will hopefully serve the institution well in the future. An institution like UCSD has many outstanding faculty and staff and it’s the balance of people who were here and the new people who come in that make it successful. UCSD had excellent talent at the faculty and chair levels before I got here and we were able to enrich that by bringing new people in.

We have a new chair of the department of medicine, Ken Kaushansky; a new chair of radiology, Bill Bradley; a new chair of pathology, Steven Gonias; a new director of the Moores Cancer Center, Dennis Carson; a new chair of pharmacology, Joan Heller Brown; a new chair of pediatrics, Gabriel Haddad; a new chair of surgery, Mark Talamini; a new CEO for the hospital, Richard Liekweg; a new associate vice-chancellor for financial affairs, Tom Jackiewicz; a new physician in chief, Tom McAfee and a new dean for scientific affairs, Jack Dixon.

I think another accomplishment has been the launching of Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and that’s really a credit to Dean Palmer Taylor, who is the architect and dean of that school. He led the creation of a whole new school, construction of a new building, and the recruitment of a new faculty and it is a major achievement.

A team lead by Rich Liekweg is working to develop a new vision for 21st century medicine for the UCSD Medical Center. We think this is a vision that will improve the quality of care for the patients, improve access of patients to our system and enhance our academic and research mission.

Also, there have been a number of new buildings constructed or approved: the building and launching of the Moores Cancer Center, the expansion of Shiley Eye Center, the Leichtag Family Foundation Biomedical Research Building and the approval for the Sulpizio Family Cardiovascular Center.

And lastly, we have reached an agreement to form the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, in partnership with the Salk Insitute, the Scripps Research Institute, and the Burnham Institute to work in this exciting new area of stem cell research.

Q

What were your biggest challenges?

Holmes: The biggest challenge for anyone who comes to an institution as a new person is to understand the culture and to get to know people who are here so that one can take advantage of the extraordinary resources and talent that is here. This has been an outstanding school of medicine long before I arrived. The challenge was how to blend that excellence with new opportunities and keep everyone working together.

Q

What led to your decision to leave UCSD for Singapore?

Holmes: I will have been here six years in October, when I will step down. I think it’s probably the right time in my career to think about a new challenge. It’s a very good time for UCSD, the health sciences complex is in a very strong position. It is, if not the most, one of the most attractive academic medical centers and health sciences campuses in the nation. There will be many opportunities for the person who follows me to do exciting things here. The time is right for UCSD and the time is right for me.

The opportunity in Singapore is an exciting one. I have helped to advise Singapore with developing biomedical programs there and I’m excited about what they propose to do there. Both I and my wife, Judy Swain, can help them, we think. And the thing that’s most attractive is that we’re not leaving San Diego. We hope to stay affiliated with UCSD and help build bridges between Asia and UCSD. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has a bold vision for international programs. I hope we will be able to help her realize this internationalization. We just announced a partnership between Singapore and UCSD for research collaborations and that will bring about $2 million of research funds that our faculty will work on with colleagues in Singapore. On Monday, we will announce a collaboration between Australia and UCSD around stem cells research and I see using this new position to build these kinds of partnerships.

I don’t think of my new position as leaving San Diego and leaving UCSD, I think of it as doing something different for UCSD.

Q

Was it difficult to make the decision to take this new job?

Holmes: Yes and no. I turned 65 in January and it’s sort of a wake-up call to think about what you might want to do next. The hardest part was telling Chancellor Fox of my decision. She is an extraordinary leader and someone I enjoy working with immensely. She was kind enough to ask me to reconsider. And that was tough for me because I really enjoy working with her. Once I made up my mind, the hardest part has been communicating this to those who have been so supportive of me since I came to UCSD-the senior leadership in the health sciences and on campus. This is my home and these are my friends, and it’s tough. But I’m not leaving San Diego, so I’m not leaving my friends. We will be living part-time in Singapore and part-time in San Diego. We’ll keep a home here.

Q

What is your new position in Singapore?

Holmes: I will be the deputy executive chairman of the Biomedical Research Council, which is like the National Institutes of Health here. My portfolio will be to focus on translational and clinical research to help shape funding and programs that will help them develop in these areas. I will help them set a strategic agenda.

Q

How do you envision crafting international partnerships with UCSD in your new position?

Holmes: This is a work in progress. Singapore has identified UCSD as one of the institutions it wants to have a major partnership with. They’re quite interested in having my wife Judy and myself continue building this bridge. Chancellor Fox is interested in international programs and would like to see that as well. Exactly how it’s going to happen needs to be worked out.

Q

After you leave, what does the future hold for the UCSD School of Medicine? What challenges does it face in the future?

Holmes:The future is very bright for us. This is probably the most exciting time in my career in the health sciences, more than ever we can take medical discoveries and use them effectively to improve human health. UCSD is in the best position in the country: you have a top university, and around that top research institutions, including Salk and The Scripps Research Institute, and then you have a very robust biotechnology industry here and a growing pharmaceutical industry. That’s practically unmatched any place in the world. You can do something here that you just can’t do any place else.

Also this is the seventh largest city in the US, and it has only one school of medicine. We’re in a unique position to develop a world-class university hospital for this community. Every city in the US has a major university hospital. We have other excellent health systems in San Diego, but we’re the only university system and consequently we play that special role.

There are always challenges. On the research side I think the challenge at the moment is that the NIH is at a trying time with a budget that is flat or even decreasing. Being a major research institution as we are, we depend on that funding. At the moment, every school of medicine in the country is challenged by that. It’s also challenging to provide quality of care and access in a very demanding budgetary time with reduced state budgets and reduced federal budgets for Medicare and Medicaid. There are a large and growing number of people without health insurance and these individuals are very vulnerable.

Q

What kind of strengths and qualifications will your successor need to succeed in this job?

Holmes: UCSD is a special institution, and the school of medicine and the health sciences are special. We have an excellent balance between research, our clinical mission and education. I think the person is going to need to be someone who has a good appreciation for all three missions and needs to bring a balance, having worked in all three areas. They will need to understand what makes research and clinical medicine successful and have a real fondness and appreciation for the importance of our educational mission. I think it’s going to be a very attractive job. If it was six years ago and they offered me this job again, I’d take it again in a millisecond.

Q

Do you envision coming back to California full time later on?

Holmes: We’re keeping our home here and I plan on living in San Diego the rest of my life.

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