(Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 25--Dr. James R. Downing arrived at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 28 years ago intending to immerse himself in biomedical research training and to stay five years.
On Wednesday, St. Jude announced that Downing, after gaining international recognition for his work at the Memphis-based institution, on July 15 will become its new chief executive officer.
Downing, 59, plans to expand St. Jude's legacy as a global leader in treating children's cancer and other catastrophic diseases. The research hospital will treat more patients, expand clinical facilities, add to its faculty and staff, invest in facilities at its campus near Downtown Memphis and extend its global reach.
"We've made great progress, but there still are children dying from these diseases, there are still certain subsets of these diseases where the prognosis is horrible," Downing said.
"We're going to really be focusing on these hard to treat cancers, doing fundamental work on trying to understand what drives these tumors, taking that fundamental information and trying to develop new ways of better diagnosing these types of cancer, of figuring out how to identify these high risk cancers, and then develop more therapies that will end up allowing these children to be cured of their cancer," he said.
Downing, 59, is currently St. Jude's deputy director, executive vice president and scientific director. He will succeed Dr. William E. Evans, who announced last fall that he is retiring as CEO after 10 years but will remain at St. Jude and return to full-time gene-related drug research.
St. Jude currently treats between 5,000 and 7,000 patients on its campus every year and has a faculty of about 220 physicians and researchers. It's fundraising arm, ALSAC, drew more than $850 million in contributions in its latest fiscal year and provides a firm financial foundation for the research hospital.
Downing is a pioneer in genome sequencing research and oversaw the Pediatric Genome Project that has delivered groundbreaking information to researchers around the globe. Last year, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences.
He and his wife, Mariea, have two daughters, one son and three grandchildren.
"Jim is inheriting a 52-year legacy of unparalleled medical discovery an innovative clinical trials that take on the toughest cases, all made possible by unwavering public support of donors and partners from around the world," Evans said in a statement. "
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