Building partnerships: Q&A with Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D.

June 12, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Last month, Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D. began in his new role as the university’s chief scientific officer and executive vice dean for research.

Headlines recently caught up with Omary to discuss his new role and his vision for the future of the organization’s research enterprise.

Q: You recently began your new role on May 1. What is your vision for the immediate future in terms of strengthening the research enterprise at Michigan Medicine?

Omary: In the immediate future, we will be focusing on two priorities. First, we have open chair positions that we need to fill — in the departments of biochemistry and human genetics. These are two highly prestigious basic science departments with remarkable legacies; the biochemistry department was established in the 1900s, and the human genetics department was established in 1956 as the first dedicated human genetics department in the U.S.

The second priority is to develop a comprehensive research space strategy to meet the needs of both our current faculty and anticipated new faculty recruits. We plan to renovate to establish new research space at NCRC, and we also have labs on the main medical campus that need to be upgraded.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee in the scientific community?

Omary: In the research community as a whole, certainly the major concern is the current climate around possible budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other federal research support. Our challenge is to remain as competitive as possible in our grant proposals as funding may shrink.

We will also work hard to diversify our research support portfolio, invest in our faculty, promote team science and collaboration, support our research cores and minimize the administrative burden.

Q: Why is it so critical to Michigan Medicine to promote basic science research and how does this fit with translational research?

Omary: Basic science research is absolutely fundamental to helping us understand not only human disease but also human health. The work done in the basic science departments is foundational and innovative, but we must not forget that our clinical faculty are also highly engaged in basic science research and many collaborations exist across basic and clinical departments.

I should also highlight that Michigan Medicine is among the elite institutions nationally in clinical research, which is relevant because translational research is really the two-way bridge between basic and clinical research. Most individual findings in basic science are incremental when viewed alone, but when layered with other parallel findings they become monumental as they merge into hugely important discoveries, such as understanding the cause of a human disease or discovering a cure.

Q: How can researchers in the medical school and main campus work together to build stronger strategic partnerships?

Omary: The opportunities to build strong partnerships across the university will increase significantly given the investments that U-M President Mark Schlissel and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the U-M Medical School Marschall Runge have just committed.

The Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, led by John Ayanian, M.D., is a great example of how we have been successful in bringing together many different disciplines to improve health care policy and delivery. Another university-wide example that is under active planning is the Precision Health Initiative, which you’ll hear a lot more about in the coming months.

The Biosciences Initiative, recently announced to be led by Roger Cone, Ph.D., director of the Life Sciences Institute and vice provost for biosciences, will be another terrific opportunity to build partnerships that further biomedical research.

In addition, working closely with Jack Hu, Ph.D., U-M’s vice president for research, and his newly-appointed Associate Vice President for Research in Health Sciences Rebecca Cunningham, M.D., will also allow us to enhance strategic partnerships in research.

Q: You’ve been busy and have a lot of work ahead of you! Does your new role still allow time for hobbies?

Omary: This is an embarrassing question, especially if you see me on the tennis court where I would be considered a hack. I suppose this is my major current hobby and I try to team up with U-M friends on some weekends for a doubles game when my aging knees allow it.