The University of Hawaii has selected a renowned colon cancer expert who oversees cancer care for a hospital network in New York City to lead the financially struggling UH Cancer Center — a move that outside groups have suggested could help stabilize and strengthen the research center.
UH is recommending Dr. Randall F. Holcombe, one of four finalists announced in March, as director of the Cancer Center, with a $410,004 annual salary. If approved by the Board of Regents at its monthly meeting Thursday, the appointment would be effective Sept. 1.
The center’s former director, Michele Carbone, who resigned in November 2014 after five years in the post, was paid $412,008 as director. Dr. Jerris Hedges, dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, has been serving as interim director.
Holcombe is chief medical officer for cancer for Mount Sinai Health System, which runs seven hospital campuses in the New York City area.
He joined Mount Sinai in September 2010. Within the organization, Holcombe also serves as deputy director for the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and director of ambulatory oncology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. He also is a professor of medicine in the Hematology and Medical Oncology Division at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“We are happy to be able to present such an outstanding candidate to the Board of Regents, a candidate who sees the great value of the UH Cancer Center in Hawaii and wants to continue its mission of reducing the burden of cancer in our communities through research, education and improved patient care,” Michael Bruno, UH-Manoa’s vice chancellor for research, said in a statement.
Holcombe received his doctor of medicine from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1983. He worked at Louisiana State University School of Medicine as an assistant professor of medicine before joining the University of California-Irvine Medical Center, where he held roles including chief of the Hematology/Oncology Division, director of the Office of Clinical Research and Trials and associate vice chancellor for research.
“He can be instrumental in our efforts to keep the UH Cancer Center (National Cancer Institute)-designated, a distinction that only 69 out of more than 1,600 cancer centers in the US have,” Hedges, the medical school dean, said of Holcombe in a statement. The federal NCI designation gives UH an edge when competing for federal funds and recruiting scientists.
Holcome would be joining UH at a time when university officials and lawmakers continue to disagree over the future of the Cancer Center, which has been overspending revenues and burning through its reserve to stay afloat. Lawmakers rejected the university’s request for an additional $5 million for operations next year, citing the lack of a sustainable business plan.
The center’s financial troubles can be traced back to a faulty business plan that had assumed the university’s share of the state’s cigarette tax would remain constant at $19 million per year. But as fewer people smoke, the tax revenues have dropped to about $14 million annually. Turmoil surrounding the center’s previous leadership and the negative publicity that ensued also affected philanthropy and recruitment of researchers.