Weill Cornell Medical College is a very important part of Cornell’s footprint in New York City and of the Uni – versity’s distinction as one of the world’s great research universities. I recently sat down with Laurie Glimcher, MD, provost for medical affairs and the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean, to discuss its progress and prospects.
David Skorton, MD: The Medical College has been developing a new curriculum. How will it differ from the way you and I were taught?
Laurie Glimcher, MD: The healthcare environment has changed rapidly and continues to do so, accompanied by an accelerated pace of discovery. We need to make sure that we are educating young physicians to thrive in this world and to equip them to be the next generation of leaders in academic medicine. We’ve substantially reinvigorated our curriculum. We’re integrating basic science and clinical medicine to a greater extent and encouraging self-learning through blended or flipped classrooms. We want students to be lifelong learners, to practice self-reflection, to develop humanism, and to be leaders in whatever area they choose to focus on. Hence, we’re incorporating time for our students to choose an area of concentration, leading to a scholarly product in any one of a number of areas, ranging from basic lab research to global health to intensive surgery.
DS: Under your leadership, Weill Cornell is stepping up its efforts in translational medicine through new research collaborations with industry. Why are these collaborations important?
LG: With the advent of technological advances like the human genome sequence, sophisticated molecular imaging, and the ability to handle “big data” sets, we’ve gotten to the point where we can accelerate the translation of discoveries in the laboratory into new therapeutics for patients.
How do we get it done? I believe we will achieve this most efficiently and effectively by partnering with the private sector. Academic scientists are much better than big pharmaceutical companies at discovery, at understanding the biology. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies are superb at medicinal chemistry—tinkering with a small molecule to make it suitable for use in humans. One example is our recent launch of the Tri- Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Initiative, a partnership with Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to cross what we call “the valley of death.” Suppose a scientist has identified a gene that’s critical in some disease and has generated a small-molecule drug that has efficacy in tissue culture and possibly even in animal models. Transforming that compound into a human therapeutic requires sophisticated medicinal chemistry, toxicity testing, pharmacokinetics, and so forth. Academicians, in general, are not very good at that. So we’ve allied ourselves with Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company, which is embedding eighteen of its medicinal chemists here at Weill Cornell. They’ll work side-by-side with our biologists.
DS: Some traditionalists say that if we turn too vigorously toward industry, we lose the recognition that peer review gives a faculty member. What would you say about that issue?
LG: What makes an academic medical center successful is the excellence of its faculty, which is determined by the metrics we employ as academicians in evaluating our peers. The career of any faculty member—physician or researcher—depends on the evaluation of that individual by internal and external peer colleagues.
DS: You’ve said that making patients the center of everything we do at Weill Cornell is our ultimate goal. How does that play out day-to-day?
LG: Well, we do make patients the center of everything we do— whether at the patient’s bedside or by discovering ways to improve treatment of diseases in the laboratory. Our interdisciplinary model is the future of biomedicine. We have significantly increased the space we have to recruit outstanding researchers as we open the Belfer Research Building. We’ve just launched a new campaign to fund the recruitment of a dozen or so researchers to increase our presence in cancer research and join Lewis Cantley, PhD ’75, who came to us from Harvard to head our new Meyer Cancer Center.
Any academic medical center that is operating on the assumption that 75 percent of its research dollars is going to come from the government in the future is not going to be around ten years from now. We need to establish a broader funding base that includes private foundations, industry/academia collaborations, and private philanthropy. I’m very grateful for the generosity of our overseers, our trustees, and many Cornell alumni, which has been essential to sustaining and growing our academic medical center and making Weill Cornell the very best place for our patients.