St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has appointed senior physician and internationally recognized radiation oncologist Dr. Larry Kun as its new clinical director and executive vice president.
Kun has served as chair of the St. Jude Department of Radiological Sciences and will remain in that position.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” said Kun, who has worked at St. Jude for 29 years. “I think I bring an intense understanding and perspective of St. Jude to now being in a position to mobilize people, both faculty and staff, towards identifying areas where we can further improve what we are doing in the context of patient care and the entire clinical operation.”
He succeeds Dr. Joseph Laver, who accepted a position at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York.
In his new role, Kun will oversee all aspects of patient care at St. Jude, which treats approximately 7,800 patients per year. Responsibilities will include developing patient care policies, managing physicians (including consulting physicians and other clinical staff), as well as planning and managing clinical space and systems.
Kun is one of a very small group of doctors in the world that has focused exclusively throughout his career on pediatric radiation oncology.
“My major areas of interest over the time that I have been at St. Jude have been in childhood brain tumors and advancing our understanding and treatment of childhood brain tumors, exploring some of the functional changes that occur in children in their mental, physical and hormonal capacities, etc., that follow the types of brain tumors they have had and the types of treatment that have been required,” said Kun, who has more than 35 years of academic and patient care experience.
His goal is to optimize radiation therapy for all types of cancers in children and adolescents, but he maintains a focus on brain tumors, which make up 20 percent of all childhood cancers.
Areas of emphasis right now are the ability of the hospital to deliver high care for high acuity patients, the structure and effectiveness of some of the academic departments, and the availability of clinical data.
“St. Jude also has six regional affiliates in cities that are several hundred miles away from Memphis that have always been an important component of our clinical enterprise, and we are looking at strengthening and enhancing those relationships,” Kun said.
Kun said he is excited about the current construction of a new proton therapy center at St. Jude that will be one of only four in the world when completed. The first piece of equipment arrives this week.
“We’re in the midst of building the world’s only pediatric proton therapy center, and it will probably be the most technologically advanced center anywhere internationally,” said Kun, who explained that the new technology is particularly beneficial for growing children and developing adolescents. “We are much better able to target the tumor, with much greater ability to spare the normal tissues that are important for normal development, growth and function in children and adolescents.”
The approximate cost of the center is $105 million, with $65 million for equipment and another $40 million for construction.
Kun joined St. Jude in 1984 to establish a department to treat cancer with radiation therapy and to initiate the multidisciplinary brain tumor program. Under his leadership, the department has grown into the largest pediatric brain tumor research program in the country.
“Under Dr. Kun’s leadership we will continue to enhance our patient care programs and accelerate momentum in developing and delivering innovative new treatments for children with cancer, sickle cell and other catastrophic diseases,” said Dr. William E. Evans, St. Jude director and CEO, in a prepared statement. “Along with outstanding clinical skills, Dr. Kun has proven his ability to organize and lead complex, multi-institutional collaborations, such as the national Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium.”
Kun has also held leadership positions in the Pediatric Oncology Group, the Children’s Oncology Group, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the Society for Neuro-Oncology and the American Board of Radiology. He is a founding member of the Alliance for Childhood Cancer, and has published more than 340 scientific articles and won numerous honors.
The Philadelphia native and avid hiker/cyclist spends his time away from work with his wife of 42 years, Donna, and their two daughters and five grandchildren.