After 13 years as president of the Swiss Cancer Research foundation, St. Gallen oncologist Thomas Cerny is handing over his office to Jakob Passweg from Basel. The conversation with the two on the handing over of the baton - about milestones, aspirations, and new goals.
Interview: Danica Gröhlich
Thomas Cerny, how do you feel about stepping down as president of the Swiss Cancer Research foundation?
Thomas Cerny: I will certainly miss this work and the interaction. It was an exciting, responsible, and honorable task for our country, which brought me together with a great number of people such as top researchers. What remains is gratitude. Gratitude to the countless people who have always supported this work over the years, but also to all staff members and the entire Board of Trustees of the Swiss Cancer Research foundation.
What will you remember most?
Thomas Cerny: Cancer research has become the undisputed driving force in biomedicine over the last 10 to 20 years and has made immense progress. In particular, the targeted and in some cases extremely successful application of immunotherapy has revolutionized the field. The fact that Switzerland is among the world leaders in this field and that more and more of our research teams are turning to such tasks is vital for the people in our country. This development is only the beginning! Great resources are needed to promote research further. I am impressed how donors have remained loyal to us, even in such difficult times as now! Nevertheless, there is unfortunately also a great disappointment: It is our paralyzed European policy that denies researchers from Switzerland participation in "Horizon Europe", the world's largest international research program of the European Union. This is a painful, still open wound that must be mended as soon as possible! Switzerland must have access again.
Your paths have crossed several times professionally: What are each other's strengths?
Thomas Cerny on Jakob Passweg: He was my favored candidate as successor because for years, he has been highly aware of the existing problems that cancer patients in our country face and is himself an excellent clinical researcher. In addition, he is fearlessly courageous, eloquent, and has a great sense of humor. In addition, he is a true leader who can lead a team to success with ideas and motivation and possesses keen political intuition.
Jakob Passweg on Thomas Cerny: Thomas shines with a mixture of passion for research, for medicine and social commitment as well as an understanding of health policy in Switzerland. He is holistic in the truest sense. At the same time, he knows how to inspire people and tackle tasks with enthusiasm. In cancer organizations, including the Swiss Cancer Research, he has repeatedly taken innovative paths. He will not be easy to replace.
What are your goals in your new office, Jakob Passweg?
Jakob Passweg: It is a great honor to take over the presidency of this important foundation, because it is the key player in cancer research in Switzerland. It is important to sense where the biggest research priorities will be in the future and to find the right balance between funding basic research projects, clinical research and research in areas such as cancer epidemiology, psychooncology, health services research, oncology care and others. At the same time, it is not always easy in Switzerland to find money for cancer research. And yet that is precisely what is important: cancer is one of the great challenges of the present and even more so of the future, because the number of cancer cases will increase dramatically in view of demographic developments.
And what is your personal motivation?
Jakob Passweg: Since I am very research-oriented, Swiss Cancer Research is a matter of the heart for me. Research must be promoted to the maximum. In my role as president, good research management is crucial. How do we prioritize research projects, which ones are funded, and who receives money from us for this purpose?
Thomas Cerny, are you now entering retirement at the age of 70?
Thomas Cerny: Yes, staying active is very important to me. But I have already shifted down a gear or two: more time with my family, for culture, and in the nature, but also for travel.
What would you like to pass on to your successor?
Thomas Cerny: My work has fulfilled me with gratitude, I wish my successor the same. Since he certainly has what it takes, I especially wish him the necessary energy, strength and health in his dual role as Chief Physician in Basel as well as the new President of the Swiss Cancer Research foundation.
Jakob Passweg (63)
Thomas Cerny (70)