WASHINGTON SPIRIT • Spring 2001  

Theodore J. Cicero, Vice Chancellor for Research

Leading the
Research
Enterprise

By Judy H. Watts

Neurologist David Holtzman discovered a way to isolate amyloid beta protein for diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's.

Electrical engineer William Richard designed a PCI [peripheral component interconnect] card for computers to allow physicians rapid access to ultrasound data.

Social work project director Elizabeth Johnson created software to help people obtain low-interest loans and access to funding programs.

Biologist Stephen Beverley came up with an agent to rapidly express foreign genes to use as a vaccine.

All these technologies designed to save lives or make life better originated in Washington University's four research-intensive schools: Medicine, Engineering & Applied Science, Social Work, and Arts & Sciences. These products and processes—and others equally worthy—were licensed in fiscal year 2000. The funding software went to 85 agencies and programs; the rest seem destined for the marketplace, through companies such as Eli Lilly, in Indianapolis, and Symbiontics, in St. Louis.

Overall responsibility for technology transfer lies with Theodore J. Cicero, vice chancellor for research since 1996. Cicero oversees the recently established Center of Technology Management, headed by Associate Vice Chancellor Andrew Neighbour and charged with the long and highly complex process of identifying patentable research, being proactive, finding potential matches, approaching area industry about licensing, and encouraging researchers to start small businesses.

Previously associate vice chancellor for animal affairs and associate dean at the medical school, Cicero is responsible for coordinating all the University's activities pertaining to research funding—a situation he says is unique among American universities with medical schools. "The advantage of our [centralized] administrative system is that our interdisciplinary research can be readily enhanced, and that approach is at the core of the University."

 


Of all his achievements, Cicero is most proud of helping investigators conduct research.


The demands of managing several thousand active research awards at any given time are intense. And because 81 percent, or nearly $300 million, of WU's total contract and grant support in fiscal year 2000 came from the federal government—through such agencies as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health—compliance with a labyrinth of exacting legal requirements is mandated, "requiring a vast number of staff hours and a huge drain on resources and time."

Cicero also ensures good scientific practice by being "continually vigilant" in order to preserve the public's trust in research, "which is essential to public health and welfare."

A respected researcher himself, Cicero has had to phase out all but a 30-year grant from NIH because of limited time. Among his important findings is the significant differences in male and female rats' sensitivity to psychoactive chemicals. The fact that the females take longer to become addicted than males but withdraw with greater difficulty—and vice versa-has profound implications for human treatment.

Of the administrative work that occupies at least 80 percent of his working time, the scientist says, "Never would I have dreamed 30 years ago that I would be doing this today!" But in point of fact, Cicero has changed course throughout his career to take on challenging new disciplines and positions. In the mid-1980s, for example, he was a full professor at Washington U. with four to five large grants when medical school Dean William A. Peck asked him to transform the University's animal research program. Cicero said yes, and in less than 10 years it was fully accredited and had two new facilities totaling 100,000 square feet—"second to no other such university facilities."

Later, when Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton wanted Cicero to oversee all University research, the search committee approached him and he declined. "So they asked if I would simply talk with them about my views of the situation and what might be done." Cicero did, and a short time later, the chancellor called. "They've recommended you if you want it," he told Cicero, who has been transforming research administration ever since.

"When something must be accomplished," he explains, "it is imperative to get the faculty on board. I tell them, 'I am willing to consider anything.'" Indeed, Cicero often draws on the faculty's formidable intellectual creativity. When he was developing WU's technology transfer policy, for example, he appointed a 26-member committee of faculty from every school at the University. "The ideas were first-rate," he says. "Many became part of policy."

Of all his achievements, Cicero is most proud of helping investigators conduct research. "We want to preserve the integrity of the research process and insist on the highest possible ethical standards, while at the same time easing the administrative burden on our investigators."

What helps him in his pivotal position? "Being obsessive-compulsive," Cicero says with a laugh. "Giving exhaustive attention to matters at hand and relying on dogged determination until something is absolutely completed."

Complementing this "drive to get things done" is an essential opposing quality: patience. "That is probably most important," Cicero says. "All administrators need it."

Judy H. Watts is a free-lance writer based in Santa Barbara, California, and a former editor of this magazine.

 

PEER REVIEW

"Ted has very strong leadership skills, and he's brought great energy and discipline—and about 26 hours of work per day—to the complex world of research management at Washington University."

—Michael R. Cannon, executive vice chancellor and general counsel


"Ted Cicero has a deep concern for academic science and understanding the problems and also the glories of people in the field. He is a wonderful leader—very enthusiastic, very articulate, and follows through precisely and rapidly."

—Mary Jeanne Kreek, professor of biology, Rockefeller University


"We tried hard to recruit Ted Cicero to the University of Pennsylvania, so that's a sign of what we think of him here! I've known him for years, through work with organizations such as the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, the FDA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He has a gift for coordinating the work of disparate people. You have a wonderful person there."

—Charles O'Brien, professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


"Ted Cicero is amazing. In addition to his major responsibilities as vice chancellor for research, he is principal investigator for a world-class research program while managing an office that includes oversight for the laboratory animal-care program, and he is active in national activities related to these and other endeavors. He is even-tempered, he's fair, and he elicits trust. I greatly admire him as a professional and as a person."

—William A. Peck, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean, School of Medicine


"Ted Cicero has done an admirable job in leading the research enterprise as vice chancellor for research. He has improved our service to the research community here and has remarkably enhanced our efforts to bring the benefits of research to the society we serve through the development of a more effective technology transfer program. A distinguished research scientist himself, he has an excellent grasp of the opportunities before us and the path to success in responding to them."

—Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor


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