As you know, I like to occasionally profile one of our executive officers. Today, instead of helping you “meet the EO,” I want to introduce you to our new deputy chair, Dr. Primo “Lucky” Lara.

Lucky took over as second-in-command here at SWOG Cancer Research Network on March 1, replacing Dr. Anne Schott. Lucky was an easy choice, for a variety of reasons.

First, he is heavily invested in SWOG. He’s been a member for more than 20 years, serving on the lung and GU committees, chairing the professional review committee and the advanced kidney cancer GU subcommittee, and leading several SWOG trials. He is a board member for our charitable arm, The Hope Foundation for Cancer Research.

Second, Lucky is a proven leader elsewhere. He is the director of the University of California Davis NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, and he serves as the executive associate dean for cancer programs and as the Codman-Radke Endowed Chair for Cancer Research at the UC Davis School of Medicine. He’s got a strong track record as a researcher, particularly in early therapeutics, and he is an author on over 270 peer-reviewed publications. Lucky has always stood out academically and clinically, landing at the top of his class as a science undergraduate and in medical school, and earning top honors as an intern, resident, teacher, clinician, and researcher. Of course, he has successfully led many grant-funded research teams.

Lucky even took a leadership class…at Harvard, naturally.

“I loved that course,” he says. “I learned two important things. One, the size of the pie isn’t fixed. We can enlarge the pie – and everyone can get a bigger slice. I also learned that you never step away from the table when the going gets tough. Keep at it. Our patients aren’t going to benefit from smart people who can’t agree and walk away when a controversial option is on the table.”

Positive and practical – this outlook pretty much defines Lucky. He has faith that success is not only possible, but likely. And he is all about setting goals and getting things done. This is already clear from his work with our five-year strategic plan. He organized a January retreat and, in March, we had a plan in place. Vision, mission, tactics, metrics. It’s all there.

“We basically have a roadmap for SWOG for the next five years,” he says. “And this roadmap will be deemed successful if we are able to generate high-impact results that help the people with cancer or at risk of getting cancer. The traditional rap on the old cooperative group system was its sluggish pace. We have to move more quickly and nimbly to do the work that really matters – curing cancer and preventing people from getting cancer. SWOG is in a unique situation to do just that. ”

Lucky wants to make our group more cohesive and cross-cutting, helping members transcend committees to bring ideas and efforts together. He wants to remove barriers for our investigators and also for our patients – particularly underrepresented groups, a topic he has published on.

And he is a fierce advocate for young investigators. A beneficiary of many mentors – including SWOG senior advisor Dr. David Gandara – Lucky has over 30 formal trainees, several of whom are now on the faculty or staff at UC Davis, City of Hope, and other institutions. Based on his experience on the GU committee, Lucky said he learned that the mark of a true leader is NOT leading a lot of your own studies.

“Leadership does not mean dominating an entire clinical trial portfolio,” he said. “We are here to create the right environment, best-in-class processes, and sustainable platforms that allow our investigators to be as successful as they can be. We are here to walk alongside our investigators – not in front of them.”

I’m so pleased Lucky is on the executive team. To learn more about the strategic plan, see this previous Front Line and also this one. And look for more details in the weeks ahead, as we continue to make the plan a reality.