A passion for research has driven Peter Jones to a number of great successes as director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center for the past 17 years. And it is his love for science that ultimately informed a recent decision to step down from his leadership position at USC Norris, pending the appointment of his successor.
“The most important reason I am stepping down as director is a positive reason,” said Jones, who has served as director of the cancer center since 1993. “My research field of epigenetics is really taking off. I want to be able to concentrate on a rapidly expanding field, a very exciting field which is attracting international interest.”
Jones said he believes leadership change is important for any organization and that the cancer center is in particularly good shape to benefit from a new director.
“It will be an amazing opportunity because the new director is coming into a center that is a real focus of not only the medical school, but of the whole university,” Jones said.
Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, praised Jones for helping establish an acclaimed cancer center at USC.
“Through his leadership, the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has built on its strengths to become a leading center for innovative research. Peter has set the stage for a successful future at Norris and will continue to lead the center toward progress through his breakthrough work in epigenetics.”
During Jones’ time as director, the center has grown both in numbers and size. In 1996, the Topping Tower added 25 new laboratories and tripled the size of the outpatient clinics serving the USC Norris Cancer Hospital.
Under the direction of Jones, the Harlyne J. Norris Research Tower was conceived and built, giving the center a 172,000-square-foot building dedicated solely to cancer research in 2007.
In addition to research space, funding and recruitment have grown considerably since 1993.
The center currently has nearly 200 members from 24 departments across six schools at the university. Researchers are involved in 22 multi-investigational or institutional grants and 229 open clinical trials. Thirty-eight new recruits have been made over the past five years and approximately 25 endowed chairs have been named during Jones’ tenure.
“There is a huge opportunity for the center to build on our exceptional strength in basic cancer research and epidemiology, and a rapidly growing strength in clinical research, to marry those together and take it to the next level,” Jones said.
A distinguished professor of urology and biochemistry & molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine, Jones is a pioneer in the field of epigenetics, the study of changes in gene silencing affected by the epigenome — a series of chemicals that attach to DNA and control access to the genes without actually changing the fundamental genetic information.
In the past two years, he has won the AACR Kirk A. Landon Prize for Basic Cancer Research, a MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute and the David Workman Memorial Award from the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation for his research.
Jones will receive the distinguished service award at the 2011 Miami Winter Symposium sponsored by Nature magazine. He also was named an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2010. He is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Jones played a role in establishing the International Human Epigenome Consortium, a project to which he will continue to devote time, and is part of a “dream team” named by Stand Up to Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated timeframe.
As a member of one of the first of five teams to receive funding for groundbreaking research, Jones is co-leading the project, which will evaluate existing epigenetic therapies and work to develop new drugs to treat cancer.
An article in the Oct. 29 issue of Science magazine highlighted the epigenetic research of Jones and Stephen Baylin, a researcher at Johns Hopkins, who is co-leading the Stand Up to Cancer team with Jones.
“To be a leader in the field and to see epigenetic therapy become a reality are accomplishments I am very proud of,” Jones said. “There are big projects happening that I don’t want to short-change, so it’s time for me to focus solely on my research.”
Jon Samet, founding director of the USC Institute for Global Health and chair of the Keck School’s Department of Preventive Medicine, is chairing the search committee.
Candidates for consideration should be directed to Warren Ross, KornFerry search consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org