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Massey director becomes AACI president, sets course for ‘inclusive excellence’ initiative

Oct 03, 2023

Group of cancer center leaders stands in front of a curtained background, Robert A. Winn holding a gavel Pictured from left to right: Douglas Lowy, M.D., principal deputy director of the National Cancer Institute; Primo Nery "Lucky" Lara, Jr., M.D., director of UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center; Caryn Lerman, Ph.D., immediate past president of the AACI; Jennifer Pegher, MA, executive director of the AACI; Joann Sweasy, Ph.D., vice president of the AACI; and Robert A. Winn, M.D.

Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair of Oncology at VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center, today became president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI). Winn accepted the position at a passing of the gavel ceremony that concluded the AACI’s joint annual meeting with the Cancer Center Administrators Forum in Washington, D.C.

Winn succeeds Caryn Lerman, Ph.D., director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.

“I can’t think of anyone to whom I’d rather pass the gavel than Rob,” Lerman said. “Rob is not just a visionary, but he is also able to communicate in a way that is so powerful and so impactful. Every time I listen to him, I go away feeling inspired and motivated.”

Jennifer Pegher, M.A., AACI executive director, called Winn’s presidency a historic moment for the organization.

“Dr. Winn is the first minority president of AACI and the first president from the commonwealth of Virginia, so we are very excited to have him,” Pegher said. “Obviously, Dr. Winn is well-respected in the cancer community and among his cancer center peers. We are just thrilled.”

As Winn oversees Massey, a center comprised of nearly 150 scientists across basic, translational, clinical and population health sciences, he simultaneously is leading the nation in establishing a 21st-century model for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the oncology workforce.

“The cancer centers are a nucleus of the oncology world,” described Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “The president of the AACI is the voice and creates a narrative for why those cancer centers are so important in the fight against cancer, particularly with Dr. Winn, and really reducing cancer disparities for everyone.”

Winn’s AACI Presidential Initiative aims to develop and promote inclusive excellence by examining methods through which AACI members can foster partnerships with like-minded organizations, government agencies and other institutions – regionally, nationally and globally.

“Rob has a 50,000-foot view of what communities need not only to reduce the cancer burden but also to achieve health equity for all people,” said Paula M. Fracasso, M.D., Ph.D., the deputy director and senior vice president of the cancer service line at VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center. “As president, Rob will broaden the scope of AACI to incorporate a global focus on cancer research, care and community engagement. Cancer is a worldwide issue, not exclusive to the AACI members in the United States and Canada. I don’t know anyone who is more capable of advancing this conversation than Rob.”

Activities proposed for the Inclusive Excellence Initiative focus on collaborative efforts to create opportunities for patient navigation, research, training and education.

“Having Dr. Winn as president of AACI goes a long way toward bringing leadership equity to the cancer center world,” said Wendy Law, Ph.D., associate director of administration for the Fred Hutch/University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Cancer Consortium. “To have a leader that is very focused on equity, not just in research but in how we bring in investigators and trainees to our cancer centers, is wonderful. He is a friend and champion of that work.”

The Inclusive Excellence Initiative will also support the continued facilitation of AACI’s annual Leadership Diversity and Development Workshop and the annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) summit in partnership with the Cancer Center DEI Network and the American Cancer Society.

To achieve these ambitious goals, Winn has assembled a steering committee of cancer center leaders and community stakeholders from across the country.

Winn is principal investigator on several large multi-institutional initiatives, including a team science award from Stand Up To Cancer and a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded Planning SPORE focused on lung cancer health equity. He is also the namesake of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program (Winn Awards), a $114 million training and education program in partnership with the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

“It’s a huge honor and distinction to recognize him for his leadership and long-standing commitment to communities and community-oriented research and giving him this platform to take it to a national level,” said Joy Jones, executive director for the Winn Awards. “The Winn Awards really complement that work by training a new generation of clinical trialists.”

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Winn received the inaugural AACI Cancer Health Equity Award in 2021. He serves on the boards of the American Cancer Society and LUNGevity Foundation and served as the chair of the 2021 AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting Program Committee.

His previous faculty appointments include serving as director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center from 2015-2019 and as associate vice chancellor of health affairs for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System from 2013-2019. Prior to his work in Chicago, Dr. Winn spent 13 years at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and School of Medicine in various leadership roles, including associate dean of admissions and vice chair of career development and diversity inclusion.

Written by: Amy Lacey

A portion of this article is repurposed from an AACI press release.

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