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Embattled chief of MD Anderson Cancer Center resigns

March 8, 2017

Dr. Ronald DePinho on Wednesday resigned as president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals, after a tumultuous tenure marked by financial problems, a large layoff, and a scathing audit that raised questions about his spending practices and management.

In an unusually forthcoming statement posted on MD Anderson’s website, DePinho appeared to take responsibility for the turmoil at the institution and the negative publicly it has attracted in recent months.

“I could have done a better job administratively, a better job listening, a better job communicating,” the statement said. “Forgive me for my short comings. I regret them, but I was, and continue, to be committed to saving lives and reduce suffering, to help MD Anderson accelerate the march towards prevention and cure, particularly for the underserved.”

DePinho had been in the top job for five and a half years and had been under a particular spotlight in the past two years, as the hospital’s financial situation deteriorated.

MD Anderson, which is known for pioneering cancer research as well as clinical care, posted a $267 million loss in the 2016 fiscal year and was expecting to lose as much as $450 million in 2017, though it brings in about $4 billion in annual revenue. In January, DePinho announced nearly 1,000 layoffs, fueling deeper questions about his spending and management.

He attracted heavy scrutiny following a recent audit by the University of Texas that raised alarms about a troubled partnership with IBM Watson to improve the precision of cancer care. The partnership, spearheaded by DePinho’s wife, Dr. Lynda Chin, was halted late last year after it failed to live up to its goals despite $62 million in spending.

The audit said several contracts with IBM and a consultant, PwC, violated internal rules.  Several of the contracts were not competitively bid and went beyond the approved scope of work, and payments were made regardless of whether the services were delivered as agreed upon. Additional questions arose regarding the project’s primary financial baker, Low Taek Jho, a flamboyant Malaysian financier who is under investigation by the US Justice Department.

Chin now holds a different job within the University of Texas System. But the questions regrading the contract, and the broader financial problems at MD Anderson, have continued to bubble up in recent weeks.

In his statement, DePinho said he intends to focus next on broader national efforts to discover a cure for cancer.

“I need to focus on the cancer moonshot,” the statement said. “I need to be a father and husband of my still young family, and at this time in our nation’s history, I need to be more intensely engaged with the national cancer and health policy landscape, including funding for research in my role as co-chair for Act for NIH.”

University of Texas Chancellor William McRaven released a one-paragraph press release praising DePinho for his work in recruiting new talent and mobilizing “MD Anderson’s quest to speed up development for new and more effective treatments.”

MD Anderson has more than 21,000 employees and treats more than 120,000 patients each year.


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