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Mass General Brigham’s chief academic officer talks about leading $2B research enterprise

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Paul Anderson spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about his new role, gene and cell therapy, immunology, and bringing scientists together.

Even with a long tradition of top-flight medical research at its institutions, Mass General Brigham is undertaking a transformation.

Paul Anderson, chief academic officer of Mass General Brigham, oversees a research enterprise of more than $2 billion. (Image: Mass General Brigham)

Paul Anderson, chief academic officer of Mass General Brigham, oversees a research enterprise of more than $2 billion. (Image: Mass General Brigham)

Paul Anderson, the new chief academic officer of Mass General Brigham, says one of his main goals is bringing the researchers across the organization together.

“We're in the middle of a transformation process where we're bringing together two major academic medical centers, a number of specialty hospitals, community hospitals, in a way that’s more than just a federation,” Anderson says. “It's actually a collaboration. And so I think it's incredibly exciting.”

Mass General Brigham appointed Anderson to the role in October, although he had been serving in an interim capacity since January. He says having a taste of the job in the interim capacity was “exhilarating,” but he says there’s a different feeling now that he officially has the title.

He says with a chuckle, “People pay a little bit more attention to what you say they know you're going to be here for a little while.”

Mass General Brigham includes two prestigious academic medical centers, Mass General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and three specialty hospitals. Anderson oversees the largest hospital-based research enterprise in America, with more than $2 billion and more than 2,700 active clinical trials.

Anderson says the academic medical centers will retain their clear identities, but he’s also looking to advance collaboration across the organization.

“There are great advantages to bringing these entities together, in a way that work together more effectively and efficiently, in a way that offers economies of scale, offers opportunities to set up research institutes, for example, across the entities, to bring people together across all of these institutions, to work together side by side,” Anderson says.

“That is a challenge because, the idea of us all now being part of a new entity, MGB, is something new,” he says. “We have to get used to that.”

In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Anderson discusses his new role, the potential of gene and cell therapy, a new institute for immunology research, and medical education and training. He’s also aiming to continue to recruit and retain top talent.

“We are the place where new medicines are discovered and brought to our patients, and people who want to do that want to come to MGB,” Anderson says.

New research institutes

Anderson has long roots with the organization. He came to Brigham and Women’s Hospital to complete an internship and residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in rheumatology. He started his own laboratory at Brigham in 1990.

He helped launch the Gene and Cell Therapy Institute, a hub of more than 400 researchers, earlier this year.

“There are some areas in medicine now that clearly are going to play an outsized role in the next 5, 10, 20 years,” he says. “Gene and cell therapy is one of them.”

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved a gene therapy editing treatment for treatment for the first time, a treatment aimed at those with sickle cell disease, a group of blood disorders.

Anderson sees promise in utilizing gene and cell therapy for cancers and autoimmune diseases.

“There's tremendous opportunity,” Anderson says. “There's only a handful of drugs that are now approved in these areas, but we believe that this is going to be an area of huge growth.”

With the new institute, Anderson says he wants to take the investigators who are working on gene and cell therapy and develop “an infrastructure so they can take their discoveries, and really move them towards the clinic, to commercialize them, and put all of the things that you need to do to do that in one place, so that's available for everyone. And to give them the training that they need to actually take advantage of this model.”

Anderson has also played a key role in the development of the Gene Lay Institute of Immunology and Inflammation, which utilizes a $100 million gift from Lay, the founder and CEO of BioLegend, Inc. It’s the largest gift in Brigham’s history.

The institute will bring together a group of investigators and develop an infrastructure to help researchers get new therapies for patients.

“This is an example where philanthropy can really jumpstart an area which is already very strong at MGB,” Anderson says. “Immunology and inflammation has been one of our great strengths. But now we can sort of turbo charge that and do it even bigger and better than before, but also enhance collaboration between investigators at all of these different institutions, bringing them together to do things more cooperatively, more efficiently.”

Focus on education

Since Anderson trained at the Brigham as a medical resident and research fellow, he has a keen appreciation for teaching programs. He serves as academic dean for Mass General Brigham at Harvard Medical School and is a professor of medicine.

He’s focused on ensuring Mass General Brigham continues to offer one of the top training programs for researchers and clinicians. “We are completely committed to making sure that that continues to be the case,” he says.

He points to training opportunities across the system to expose students and residents to different types of diseases. Now, Mass General Brigham is combining many of its training programs.

“Our trainees can move throughout the system, take advantage of the fact that there's different kinds of patients and different kinds of expertise throughout the system, to really enhance their exposure to all the things they need to do to be the best doctor they can be, to be the best researcher that they can be,” he says.

Mass General Brigham has undertaken a strategic plan for research and education programs. Anderson says the effort has involved talking to faculty, trainees and researchers to find out what they need to do their jobs most effectively, including barriers they are encountering.

“We also need to be the preferred place for all of our employees to work,” Anderson says. “We want our trainees to come here because they think it's the best place to train. We want our faculty to come here because they think this is the best environment for them to do their work, and to accomplish what they want to accomplish, either in research or education.

“So we would really like to find a way to be a preferred employer across our entire institution,” he adds. “So that's going to be a big focus of the strategic plan”

For Anderson, it’s clear that he is relishing the opportunity at Mass General Brigham.

“This is still one of the most exciting areas to be in right now,” he says. “I can't imagine something I'd rather do than to work with these amazingly talented investigators across MGB and trying to help them to do the work as efficiently as effectively as possible to bring new medicines to our patients.”


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