Michael Birrer to Lead Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute

Michael Birrer to Lead Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute
Michael Birrer (UAMS)

Dr. Michael Birrer, an oncologist who specializes in gynecologic cancers, has been named vice chancellor and director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

UAMS said Birrer, who formerly served as director of the O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will join the university by the end of the year. As director of the UAMS Cancer Institute, Birrer will lead all cancer-related activities for the university.

"It is an honor to welcome Dr. Birrer as the new director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute," UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said in a news release. "As a highly regarded physician-scientist, Dr. Birrer is uniquely qualified to increase the Cancer Institute's capacity for innovative research and advanced clinical care in the years ahead."

Birrer succeeds Dr. Laura Hutchins, who has been interim director since June 2018. Hutchins stepped in after Dr. Peter Emanuel, who led the center since 2007, resigned that same month. Emanuel is now director of oncology at CHI St. Vincent

"I left a professorship at Harvard Medical School in an attempt to help a broader number of patients suffering from cancer," Birrer said. "This position at UAMS will allow me to do that for cancer patients throughout Arkansas."

Dr. Christopher Westfall, executive vice chancellor and dean of the UAMS College of Medicine, said Birrer's appointment will help the university reach its goal of achieving designation by the National Cancer Institute, which would bring to UAMS clinical trials and therapies not currently available in Arkansas. 

UAMS previously merged its Myeloma Institute for Research & Therapy with the Rockefeller Cancer Institute, because to get the NCI designation, UAMS needed all cancer programs to be under one administrative structure. UAMS has said getting the designation would mean a $72 million economic impact on Arkansas and about 1,500 new jobs over five years.

UAMS said Birrer is "recognized nationally and internationally as an expert in gynecologic oncology." His primary research interest is in characterizing the genomics of gynecologic cancers to improve the clinical management of these diseases. His clinical interests include ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and cervical cancer.

In 2008, Birrer was appointed professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Medicine and assumed the position of director for both Gynecologic Medical Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Gynecologic Oncology Research Program at the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

 In 2017, he accepted the position of director of the O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Cente, where he served as professor of medicine, pathology and OB-GYN. He has about 400 publications, including peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters and review articles.

Birrer's salary will be $700,000 per year, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.