[Updated 3/8/17 4:58 pm. See below.] Houston—Ronald DePinho, CEO of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has announced he is stepping down after six years at the helm.
“Chancellor William H. McRaven has asked me to stay on through the end of the Texas Legislative session, and we will be talking through the details on the timing of my departure,” he wrote in an e-mail to employees. “I am committed to doing everything I can to make this a smooth transition.”
DePinho’s announcement also included a six-minute video in which he speaks of MD Anderson’s accomplishments and apologizes for the ways in which he might have performed better. “I could have done a better job administratively; I could’ve done a better job listening; I could’ve done a better job communicating,” he said. “Forgive me for my shortcomings. I regret them.”
DePinho, who was visibly emotional while he was talking, said he had done his best and that his work was motivated by the loss of his father to colon cancer. DePinho was not available for comment.
[Story updated with UT System comment and background on DePinho’s tenure.] McRaven praised DePinho’s vision and passion in a statement Wednesday. “President DePinho did exactly what he pledged to do—elevate the scientific enterprise through the recruitment and retention of world class researchers, accelerate the translation of intellectual property, develop new collaborations with other institutions and hospitals, and put internal teams of the world’s best clinicians and researchers together to mobilize MD Anderson’s quest to speed up development for new and more effective treatments.”
DePinho said his decision came after months of reflection. “This great and noble institution needs a new president who will inspire greater unity,” he said in the video.
While DePinho developed programs such as the Cancer Moonshot that brought acclaim to the institution, his tenure was often rocky. Most recently, the MD Anderson was the subject of a scathing UT System audit on the $62 million partnership between the institution and IBM Watson. The audit concluded that MD Anderson mishandled aspects of procurement and contract management and that some actions could be perceived as lacking in transparency.
The audit pointed blame at DePinho’s wife, Lynda Chin, a cancer researcher who led the IBM Watson project at MD Anderson. She left MD Anderson in 2015 and is currently the UT System’s vice chancellor for health transformation and chief innovation officer for health affairs. In an interview with Xconomy, she defended her work soon after the audit was released. The IBM Watson partnership is now on hold.
Late last year, the hospital posted a $267 million loss for fiscal year and said it expected to lose as much as $450 million in 2017. In January, DePinho announced about 1,000 layoffs.
In the video, DePinho said he will now focus on national cancer research efforts. “I need to focus on the cancer moonshot,” he said. “I need to be more intensely engaged with the national cancer and health policy landscape.”