UF Health Cancer Center appoints new director
Licht comes to UF Health from Northwestern University in Chicago and brings a $2 million research portfolio that includes funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and national foundations such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. His laboratory studies aberrant gene regulation as a cause of blood cancers and is developing treatment strategies to reverse abnormal, cancer-causing gene functions. Licht currently serves as the associate director for clinical sciences at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, and holds appointments in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine as the Johanna Dobe Professor of Hematology/Oncology, chief of the division of hematology/oncology and professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics.
“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Licht join us as director of the UF Health Cancer Center. He is a world-class clinician-scientist and has vast experience in administering the clinical, research and educational missions of an academic cancer center,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “Moving forward, his knowledge and expertise will allow the UF Health Cancer Center to successfully build on its foundation of excellence in providing cancer care to patients and to make scientific discoveries that improve cancer therapies for Florida’s residents and people everywhere.”
Florida is the nation’s third most populous state, trailing only California and Texas, yet its residents experience the second highest number of any state for both new cancer cases and mortality. As an academic center for cancer research and care, Guzick anticipates UF Health Cancer Center’s role in alleviating the state’s cancer burden will greatly expand as the number of Floridians aged 65 years and older — the age group that bears the greatest cancer incidence — swells to an estimated 25 percent of the state’s population over the next two decades.
“We conducted an exhaustive, national search and spoke to many outstanding candidates,” said Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., UF Health executive vice president for research and education and the chair of the UF Health Cancer Center director search committee. “Dr. Licht stood out among this truly impressive group as the individual possessing the best combination of experience, intellect, vision and passion for cancer care and research that the search committee felt was imperative to lead our cancer center to the next level.”
Licht’s cancer career spans nearly three decades and his research program is distinguished by 25 years of NIH and national foundation funding. He serves as chief scientific officer of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation and on the editorial boards of numerous peer-reviewed cancer journals. He is a member of the executive committee of the American Society of Hematology and is on the faculty of the ASH/European Hematology Association Translational Research Training in Hematology joint program. Licht sits on the Medical/Scientific Board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and is a member of the Basic Mechanisms of Cancer Therapeutics Study Section of the NIH. He has published more than 170 original articles, reviews and book chapters and his work has been cited more than 10,000 times.
Prior to his position at Northwestern, Licht was a professor and chief of hematology/oncology and associate dean for cancer programs at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. A graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Licht completed his internal medicine residency and medical oncology fellowship at Harvard Medical School.
“Being director of the UF Health Cancer Center is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Licht. “The center has an outstanding reputation and already possesses the foundational strengths necessary to support the two benchmarks of excellence I believe are crucial to the center’s role as a cancer leader in the state and nation.”
Licht outlined these as expanding the NCI-funded research portfolio of both basic and translational cancer research, which state support through the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program will help facilitate, and extending investigator-initiated clinical trials to as many people as possible to improve treatment outcomes for patients.
“Meeting these targets will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m excited to have,” Licht said.
As UF Health Cancer Center director, Licht succeeds Paul Okunieff, M.D., who, after five years of service, announced in January that he is stepping down to focus his energy on the UF department of radiation oncology, which he chairs, and on his robust and demanding research program. Okunieff led the UF Health Cancer Center during a time of unprecedented growth in cancer patient care and research funding.
“As center director, I’ve been honored and proud to work with the extraordinary cancer physicians and researchers whose hard work and dedication have been instrumental in expanding the reach of the UF Health cancer brand,” said Okunieff. “I feel a tremendous sense of loyalty and responsibility to these men and women, so it gives me great confidence that Dr. Licht, a world leader who could be cancer director anywhere in the country, wants to come here to lead us into the future.”