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San Diego’s Sanford-Burnham Institute Gets New Chief

Evening Edition

Above: The Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute has a new chief executive officer. KPBS reporter Erik Anderson says the San Diego Institute will try to balance the mandate for basic research and a push to bring products to market.

Aired 8/20/14 on KPBS News.

An oncologist who spent part of his career in the pharmaceutical world is the new chief executive officer at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Dr. Perry Nisen is the new CEO at the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute. Aug. 19, 2014.

An oncologist who spent part of his career in the pharmaceutical world is the new chief executive officer at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Dr. Perry Nisen, 59, was most recently a vice president of science and innovation at GlaxoSmithKline. Before that, he served as a professor of nuero-oncology at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center.

Nisen's challenge is to balance two competing interests: the push for basic research and the desire to bring new drug therapies to market.

"Bringing those together will be formidable," Nisen said. "And the opportunity and challenge is to establish further, the partnerships and connections with pharma. I've lived on that side of the world for quite a period."

The Torrey Pines-based research organization has struggled recently with declining funding from the National Institutes of Health. In January, however, Sanford-Burnham landed a $275 million grant from an anonymous donor calling for the organization to focus on turning basic research into medical tools.

The institute has more than 1,000 scientists whom Nisen will oversee in the greater quest toward drug development.

Change is not a new thing for the organization.

"We have expanded our research mission from focusing only on cancer to other areas of medical needs," interim CEO Kristiina Vuori said. "Today we do research on diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease; (and) diseases of the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis."

Sanford-Burnham researchers also study diabetes, obesity, infectious and childhood diseases.

Vuori will stay on as president.

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