Sarah Goodwin

Susan Riordan
Sylvia Wrobel
December 9, 1999

Jonathan W. Simons, M.D., has been named director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, effective Feb. 1, 2000. A highly acclaimed physician-scientist in translational cancer research, Dr. Simons is the first investigator to successfully use human gene therapy to create clinically measurable immune responses against metastatic prostate cancer.

Dr. Simons currently is director of the Molecular Pharmacology Program and Cancer Gene Therapy Laboratory at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he is an associate professor of both Oncology and Urology. At the age of 41, Dr. Simons already is internationally recognized as a leader in the molecular oncology and gene therapy of prostate cancer.

"This is an enormously important appointment for Emory," says Thomas J. Lawley, M.D., dean of the Emory University School of Medicine. "The Winship Cancer Institute has not yet realized its great potential. But it stands poised to become one of the nation’s top centers for cancer care, research, prevention and education, and we have found a director with the vision, energy, and ability to make that happen. We are impressed by Dr. Simons’ own research, which has opened a new door to the development of treatments for prostate cancer and other cancers, and we believe he brings to Emory an understanding of how to focus, coordinate and expand the considerable resources available to our cancer programs."

Dr. Michael M. E. Johns, executive vice president for Health Affairs, director of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and CEO of Emory Healthcare, was dean of the Hopkins School of Medicine when Dr. Simons began his teaching and research career. He says, "At Hopkins, Jonathan took hold of the program that translates cancer research from the laboratory to the bedside, and led it to new heights. I have known him, and watched his career for the past decade. He has all the qualities and the many skills to lead the Winship Cancer Institute into a new era world-class research and patient care.

Dr. Johns adds, "This appointment is great for Emory and for Georgia."

The name change from Winship Cancer Center to the Winship Cancer Institute was approved by the Board of Trustees earlier this year, to better reflect the diversity of Emory’s work in cancer and to represent plans for a marked expansion of cancer programs at Emory. It remains as the coordinating center for cancer patient care at Emory, including medical, surgical, and radiation oncology, diagnostic imaging, and the subspecialties of cancer care. The research programs are expected to boom, both in basic and clinical science.

Dr. Simons’ arrival also means that Emory can move full speed ahead on a $56 million, 226,000-square-foot comprehensive cancer building. About four floors will be devoted to outpatient clinical care and three for research. This new building is in addition to existing Cancer Institute space in The Emory Clinic on Clifton Road and other areas across campus.

After several months of visiting Emory, hundreds of hours of conversations, and studying the resources here, Dr. Simons will arrive with the outline of a vision and strategic plan for the next 10 years. "Frankly," he said, "I found the possibilities and institutional commitment at Emory to be breathtaking. My family and I are honored beyond words to be coming to a place such as this."

In describing briefly his vision for what the Cancer Institute at Emory should be, Dr. Simons said, "One in four adult Americans is forecast to be diagnosed with cancer in his or her lifetime. This is utterly unacceptable, particularly with our new genetic understanding of cancer, and new possibilities for gene-based strategies to prevent, detect, and ultimately cure currently intractable cancers. The sense of mission was palpable in the leadership at Emory that its faculty can and should be making discoveries critical to eradicating the problem of cancer. In the face of managed care, Emory University is affirming what our patients already know: there are now more great ideas to test urgently than there are great cancer centers to test them.

"One could not have designed the initial conditions better for a new research assault on cancer for the new century than has been done at Emory," he added.

"First, extra-ordinary resources are now in place so that the Winship Cancer Institute can recruit the brightest, new, young, dedicated minds to work on the problem of cancer at Emory with research tools undreamed of a decade ago. This generation has opportunities to change the face of cancer medicine like none before it."

"Second, the new Winship Cancer Institute building can be the first 21st Century model of its kind, designed from the ground up to accelerate the translation of Emory discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, and from the clinic back to the laboratory," Dr. Simons said. "The building allows simultaneous translation in both directions-in the spirit of providing world-class care and advancing the state of the art for all cancer patients and their families coming through the lobby."

"Third, Grady Hospital is an untapped national treasure for conducting the multi-disciplinary scholarship needed to bring to high risk cancer populations earlier cancer detection and cancer prevention. This new day for early cancer intervention research needs a home at a place like Grady. We are on the verge of using cancer genomics and diagnostics of environmental exposure to intervene early and prevent cancers. In some cases, mechanism-based intervention by medical oncologists may be provided with entirely new classes of molecules that could enhance the diets of high risk groups."

Dr. Simons’ appointment concludes a national search headed by Dr. David A. Blake, vice president for Academic Health Affairs at Emory and associate director of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Dr. Blake says, "Having known Jonathan since he was a medical student at Johns Hopkins, I have followed his career closely and I am absolutely confident that he has the intellect, knowledge, personal skills – and sense of humor – to do a spectacular job.

A native of Washington, D.C. and raised in Ithaca, N.Y., Dr. Simons is a B.S. graduate of Princeton University (1980) and received his M.D. degree from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (1984). Before entering medical school he was a Rotary International Postgraduate Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, and a Nuffield Foundation Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge.

Dr. Simons completed his residency in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, then began his career in cancer as a Clinical Fellow in Medical Oncology and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. He conducted his three year post-doctoral fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a leading figure in the field. In the last years of this program, he was asked to join the medical oncology staff and serve as an instructor in oncology at The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. The following year, 1992, he was appointed to the Hopkins faculty as an Assistant Professor in both Oncology and Urology. He became an Associate Professor in both departments in 1997. He currently holds a joint appointment, which he will continue at Emory, as Visiting Professor of Genetic Medicine and Medical Oncology at the Free University Hospital and Cancer Center in Amsterdam.

Dr. Simons’ laboratory and the clinical group he led at Hopkins developed and conducted the first human gene therapy clinical trial for prostate cancer using prostate cancer vaccines and GM-CSF gene transfer. Based on the outpatient safety and promise of two early clinical trials translated from bench to bedside by Dr. Simons’ team, national clinical trials currently are testing the efficacy of these vaccines in men with advanced prostate cancer. The finding that human gene therapy concepts can be safely used to educate a patient’s immune system to recognize prostate cancer, and induce new, therapeutic, T-cell and antibody immune responses against chemotherapy refractory tumors like prostate cancer, recently has been viewed as paradigm shifting for solid tumor therapeutics.

More recently, Dr. Simons’ work on prostate cancer gene therapy has been translated from laboratory to a clinical trial of a new form of oncolytic gene therapy. This is the first target gene specific approach of its kind. It employs the use of a common cold virus (adenovirus) which has been genetically modified with a portion of the human PSA (prostate specific antigen) gene that makes it highly selective for viral killing of only prostate cancer cells. Over the past decade, Dr. Simons’ molecular pharmacology laboratory also is credited with first identifying two genes as new therapeutic targets to prostate cancer metastatic to bone (endothelin-1 receptor, H1F-1). Blockade of both targets is undergoing extensive drug development clinical trial testing in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Simons is a founding member and leader of the Capcure Foundation Clinical Trials Consortium for prostate cancer and has served in numerous leadership roles for the American Association of Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense Biomedical Research Initiatives for Cancer, and the American Cancer Society. He and his postdoctoral fellows have received numerous research prizes.

An academic component of the School of Medicine, the Winship Cancer Institute encompasses the extensive cancer care and laboratory and clinical cancer research programs across Emory University. The core faculty is primarily in the clinical and research program in hematology/oncology, but more than 200 faculty members from a cross section of disciplines have joint appointments in the interdisciplinary Institute. The Institute also contains six shared high technology core facilities open to clinicians and researchers throughout the Emory system.

The Institute is involved in some 250 clinical trials of new cancer treatment and prevention. In addition, basic science cancer researchers are studying virtually every type of cancer, including brain, breast, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, prostate, lung, skin, leukemia and lymphomas and others. Other research areas include cancer prevention, pediatric oncology, molecular therapy, immunology and cancer genetics. The Institute also is heavily involved in professional and community education.

Dr. Simons and his British wife, Elizabeth (Plum) Clawson-Simons, have two sons, Sam, age 11, and Alexander (Lecky), age 9. Ms. Clawson-Simons received her graduate degree from Harvard University and is currently a university departmental administrator.

Dean Lawley said "I and the entire Emory community are immensely grateful to Dr. William C. Wood, an internationally known breast cancer surgeon and chair of the Department of Surgery, who has served as interim director of the Winship Cancer Institute. We also are grateful to Dr. Christopher D. Hillyer, director of the Blood Bank at Emory Hospital and Grady Health System, who has served as deputy director. They have maintained busy clinical and research schedules while helping position the Institute for the great leap it is about to take." ###






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