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URMC hiring a coup: Top surgeon, researcher recruited for key post

Rochester Business Journal
August 22, 2014

The University of Rochester Medical Center has scored a coup, recruiting a prominent cancer surgeon and nationally recognized medical researcher to lead URMC’s department of surgery.

David Linehan M.D. is to assume the URMC post Oct. 1. A specialist in cancer surgery, he currently is chief of hepatobilliary-pancreatic and gastrointestinal surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

He replaces Jeffrey Peters M.D., who left URMC on March 31 to accept a posi-tion as chief operating officer of University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. Peters’ compensation as URMC’s chief of surgery totaled $1.2 million in 2010, a UR filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows.

Spurring Linehan to make the move was URMC’s status as “a flagship academic medical center and outstanding research institution,” Linehan said.

Before a 15-year tenure at Washington University, Linehan held surgical and research positions at Deaconess-Harvard Surgical Service, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He also was in surgical oncology at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

A “premier surgical scientist” in the field of pancreatic cancer, Linehan is a “triple threat” with imposing credentials as a research scientist, clinician and surgeon, said Michael Rotondo M.D., CEO of URMC’s 900-physician Medical Faculty Group. Rotondo was co-chairman of the search committee that winnowed a field of some 40 chief-of-surgery candidates down to Linehan.

In the search for a department of surgery chairman, “we were able to attract candidates with the best credentials,” Rotondo said. “We started with 40 curriculum vitae, pared those down to 12 and then down to six or seven and finally down to one. Dr. Linehan was clearly a standout.”

Search committee co-chairman Jeffrey Lyness M.D., senior associate dean of UR’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, concurs.

Linehan’s expertise and reputation as a surgeon skilled in treating liver, bile duct, pancreatic and gastric cancers will be a boon to UR Medicine’s James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute, attracting new patients regionally, Lyness said.

Equally important, however, is the boost Linehan’s reputation and skills are expected to give the URMC department of surgery, adding to its prestige and helping it to recruit candidates in other surgical specialties, Rotondo said.

Perhaps more important still are Linehan’s research credentials.

“I expect Dr. Linehan to have a broad regional presence as a clinician, but his renown as a researcher is national and international,” Lyness said.

Long established and continuously funded as a scientific investigator, Linehan will come to URMC with some $2 million in research funds and a proven ability to reel in more. He also will bring some of his Washington University lab staff with him.

“It will be a handful; we’re still working out who might come,” Linehan said.

The $2 million in research money he will bring with him—“a funding base we expect to grow”—is only the “portable” part of the larger pool of research funding he is currently overseeing at Washington University, Linehan said.

URMC has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade and a half to build gleaming new laboratories and woo top researchers such as Linehan. Like virtually all other U.S. academic medical centers, however, it has seen a drop in research funding as increasingly dollar-conscious government and private research backers reduce support.

After growing its National Institutes of Health research funding from some $75 million in 2000 to a peak of $165 million, URMC has seen it drop to $135 million, URMC CEO Bradford Berk M.D. recently told the Rochester Business Journal.

Government and private funders have become less interested in pure research and more likely to back so-called translational medical research projects, which aim to turn laboratory research into practical treatments.

“My (research) work is bench-to-bed,” Linehan said, meaning that it fits the translational mode.

Linehan’s research deals with the same cancers he attacks as a surgeon, but it focuses on non-surgical treatments including drug and genetic therapies.

Cancers that hit internal organs such as the pancreas or liver are among the most insidious. Often not detected until they are advanced and have spread, they are notoriously hard to treat.

A current project headed by Linehan is looking at ways to attack non-malignant cells that help pancreatic cancer cells fight off attacks by a patient’s immune system.

Linehan said the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s robust research and clinical cancer program and the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which provides infrastructure for the research he wants to pursue, were important factors in his decisions to seek and accept the URMC post.

Aside from the support, advantages and prestige a URMC appointment offers, he added, he and his wife, Judy, are looking forward to relocating from Missouri to Rochester.

“It looks like a very nice place to live,” Linehan said. “My wife is from Vermont, and I’m from Boston. We’re both looking forward to moving back to the Northeast.”

8/22/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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