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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

A non-MD, new Joslin CEO suits tight times, scientists say

Research money isn't what it used to be. Neither is the leadership of the Joslin Diabetes Center.

But Ranch C. Kimball, Joslin's first non-physician president and CEO, won "surprisingly positive" reviews from scientists when he made the rounds at the Harvard affiliate before being named. A memo summarizing the scientists' impressions of Kimball also said he had "obvious intellectual gifts and understood researchers' needs."

Kimball comes from the Romney administration, where he was secretary of economic development. He takes over from Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, who returned to full-time research in September.

"We realize this is probably an unusual choice of a president," said Dr. Steven E. Shoelson, a Joslin researcher and clinician. "I think it relates to the specific demands of the time. With NIH funding going down and more and more competition for research dollars, the board felt a specific need to strengthen our ability to compete for development dollars."

Joslin's outpatient clinic, run jointly with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, loses money because that kind of primary care -- unlike surgery -- isn't reimbursed very well.

Total revenues and expenses both grew a little over 1 percent from fiscal 2004 to 2005. Its surplus was about $4.6 million both years. Philanthropy has averaged about $12 million over the last four years.

Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess, was on the search committee that nominated Kimball for the Joslin job. Business leaders bubbled to the top, he said.

Joslin holds its own getting NIH funds, said Shoelson, who is associate director of research. Grant support was about the same from 2004 to 2005, but belt-tightening has chilled Joslin and other research centers as fewer proposals survive.

One researcher who asked not to be named said he's getting only 80 percent of the money he used to pull in from NIH.

"I wake up and think, my God, with a 20 percent cut, how can I manage the salaries of my post-docs or my fellows? How do I manage my funds for experiments?"

Kahn did well to combine fund-raising with research, the scientist said, but a single focus on money will be better.

"I think the critical thing for us is to have a happy marriage between the business side and the research side."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:08 PM
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