Thomas J. Lynch, MD
As director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, Thomas J. Lynch Jr, MD, wears many hats. And, having built a career united around two abiding goals of clinical discovery and personalized patient care, that’s just the way he likes it.
“I am actually very lucky; I have two fantastic jobs,” Lynch said. His responsibilities at Smilow, which opened in the fall of 2009, following his own appointment as physician-in-chief in April of that year, have given him the opportunity “to bring a spectacular facility online and deliver the very best care to patients with cancer.”
The hospital consolidated Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center and Yale-New Haven Hospital’s inpatient and outpatient cancer services into one facility. Treatment is organized around 12 cancer program teams, currently treating more patients with cancer than any other hospital in Connecticut.
“My role at Smilow has been very helpful in keeping me focused on patients and why we do what we do,” Lynch continued. “I get to work very closely with patients, with their families, and with providers.”
When Lynch is wearing his other hat at the helm of the Yale Cancer Center, he is involved in organizing and running a large, complex academic institution focused on cancer research, an arena in which he has distinguished himself for his pioneering work in lung cancer for more than three decades.
“What I find so complementary about these two positions is that they really go hand in hand. Without the clinic, the focus of cancer research is lost, and without cancer research, the opportunity to make progress is lost. I’m very fortunate to be able to work in both areas.”
One of Lynch’s many responsibilities at Yale includes developing the Cancer Biology Institute, established in 2010 as the research arm of the Yale Cancer Center. Under the leadership of founding director Joseph Schlessinger, PhD, MSc, chair of Yale University’s Department of Pharmacology, this interdisciplinary institute is dedicated to finding the causes of and potential treatments for cancer through collaborative research. The research is conducted by senior and junior scientists whom Lynch helps to recruit, working in such fields as cell signaling, cancer immunotherapy, and the development of genetically precise treatments geared toward each patient’s molecular profile.Clinical Research—Front and Center
Research has been a central focus of Lynch’s work since he earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Yale in the 1980s—and actually, even before that.
The Boston native grew up in a medical family, and he wanted to be a doctor all of his life, he recalled. “My father was one of the first hematologists in the country, so I knew about cancer as a kid. It’s something that I saw as a real problem for patients and families, even when I was a small child.”
“As I began my medical education and training,” he continued, “I was really drawn to the idea that clinical research and the ability to take new drugs and new paradigms and bring them to patients was very exciting and stimulating.”
Lynch carried this ethos with him to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where he completed his internship and residency, joining the medical staff there in 1993 and embarking on a remarkable career dedicated to lung cancer care, research, and teaching.Breakthrough Discovery of EGFR Mutations in NSCLC
Lynch has conducted dozens of studies focused on personalized cancer therapies and has published more than 100 original scientific papers. He worked with Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD, director of the MGH Cancer Center, on one of the research teams that delineated the role of EGFR
mutations in treatment response among patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Using the molecular profile of lung tumors, Lynch and his research team have developed methods to predict a tumor’s response to targeted drugs based on confirmed mutations in the EGFR
gene. The resulting information enables oncologists to create treatment plans that more effectively target each patient’s specific tumor type. This kind of customized care and personalized medicine is a standard of practice at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital.