James K.V. Willson, MD, Named Chief Scientific Officer of CPRIT

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James K.V. Willson, MD

James K.V. Willson, MD, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs and Professor and Director of the Harold C. ­Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center, has been named Chief Scientific Officer of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), effective March 1, 2016.

Dr. Willson led UT Southwestern’s successful efforts to have the Simmons Cancer Center recognized with comprehensive status from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—the first and only facility in North Texas to receive this distinction.

As Chief Scientific Officer at CPRIT, Dr. Willson will lead the agency’s academic research program in supporting innovation in cancer research and recruiting world-class cancer researchers to Texas institutions. To date, CPRIT has awarded 806 academic research grants totaling $1.046 billion, and CPRIT funding has helped bring 104 distinguished cancer researchers to Texas.  

“I was attracted to this position because it provides an opportunity to expand the frontiers of cancer research by encouraging new discoveries with real potential to transform the way cancer is treated,” said Dr. Willson, who holds The Lisa K. ­Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology at UT Southwestern.

Acclaimed Background

Dr. Willson has spent more than 30 years in the field and is renowned for his work in the genetics of colorectal cancer. His research led to the development of cell and animal models for human colon cancer that have been key to identifying genetic factors in disease progression. His most recent research focuses on identification of novel molecular targets for cancer therapy. In 2015, he led a collaborative team study that identified a molecule that may play a significant role in accelerating cell recovery following bone marrow transplants, liver disease, and colon disease.

Dr. Willson joined UT Southwestern in 2004 and began the process of securing NCI designation and building the Simmons Cancer Center’s research and clinical enterprises. In addition to attracting many nationally recognized cancer researchers and clinicians who now lead more than a dozen specialties at the Simmons Cancer Center, Dr. Willson helped oversee expansion of its research and clinical facilities.

Prior to joining UT Southwestern, Dr. Willson spent 10 years as the Director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, which also received a top NCI designation during his tenure.

Dr. Willson earned his medical degree from the University of Alabama. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and received additional training at the NCI. ■