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Dana-Farber recruits Cornell medical dean as CEO

Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher.
Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher.

After a worldwide search that culled a long list of executives, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute wanted Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher as its new chief executive so badly that it agreed to wait until next year for her to start the job.

Glimcher, a noted physician and researcher with deep ties to Boston, is dean of Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. She plans to stay in that role until her five-year contract expires at the end of the year.

Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., who has led Dana-Farber since 2000 and was planning to retire this summer, will remain CEO until Glimcher arrives in January.

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Glimcher, 64, will come to Dana-Farber at a time when cancer care and research are rapidly evolving, giving new hope to many patients diagnosed with serious and complicated diseases.

“For the first time ever, we’re beginning to harness the awesome power of the immune system to fight cancer,” Glimcher said. “We’re also beginning to harness the awesome power of genetics to fight cancer.”

Under Benz, Dana-Farber cemented is reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent cancer care providers, and it has expanded affiliations with other hospitals in Massachusetts and beyond to boost the number of patients it serves. Last week, the institute said it would explore a partnership with Rhode Island’s largest health care provider, Lifespan Health System.

The institute has also sought to raise its profile with fund-raisers through its charity arm, the Jimmy Fund.

“Laurie is coming in at a time when we’re growing, and we would like to continue to grow,” said Joshua Bekenstein, chairman of Dana-Farber’s board. “We want to continue to be one of the leading, if not the leading, cancer research centers in the world.”

Dana-Farber hosted nearly 260,000 patient visits in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, up from about 253,000 the previous year. It collected $1.2 billion in revenue, up from less than $1.1 billion.

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Bekenstein said Glimcher’s strong background in science and medicine and her role running a major medical school made her the best candidate from a list of dozens.

She grew up in Brookline, graduated from Harvard Medical School, and spent most of her career teaching at Harvard and working as a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital before leaving Boston in 2012 to join Cornell.

“Boston is my home,” she said.

Glimcher is an expert on the immune system, which is proving to have a critical role in fighting cancer. Scientists at Dana-Farber and elsewhere are studying immunotherapy, in which drugs activate a patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells. Glimcher’s research has focused on this kind of therapy, and she plans to continue that work at Dana-Farber. As CEO, she will also have a professorship at Harvard.

Glimcher will be Dana-Farber’s first woman chief executive. Dr. Paul J. Anderson, who worked with her for many years in the Brigham’s division of rheumatology, called her a brilliant and productive researcher who has been a role model and advocate for women in science.

She has worked to break down the silos that often exist between academic departments, added Anderson, now chief academic officer at the Brigham. “She’s been very successful in getting both physicians and basic scientists to work together on problems.”

Glimcher serves on several boards, including at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Waters Corp., Cornell University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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At Cornell, where she is also a professor and provost, she earned more than $1.3 million in 2013, according to tax filings.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com.