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October 25, 2016 - Pierson joins research administration

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Milton C. Pierson Jr. has joined USA Mitchell Cancer Institute as assistant director for research administration, where he will oversee compliance for MCI faculty who secure and fulfill research grants.

Pierson comes to MCI from the University of Louisville, where he served as senior associate director for administration. While in Kentucky, he oversaw $35 million in grants and managed an endowment worth $30 million. Pierson also spent more than 22 years working in health care research in Birmingham, including at UAB and Southern Research.

“We are delighted that Milton Pierson is returning to Alabama to assume this important role at MCI,” said Dr. Michael A. Finan, director. “His experience will be invaluable as MCI raises its profile as a respected cancer research institution in the region.”

MCI employs 15 principal investigators who lead cancer research teams in areas ranging from Drug Discovery to DNA Damage and Repair. Grant funding stands at about $3 million to $5 million annually.

Pierson said the research compliance field has experienced great change in recent years. “The financial requirements and auditing requirements are very different than they used to be,” Pierson said. “We will build the basis for tracking and monitoring compliance so that faculty members at MCI can focus their efforts on research.”

One challenge, he said, is a reduction in federal funding from the National Institutes of Health, which includes the National Cancer Institute. “In the last eight years, the amount of funding from the federal government is drastically reduced,” he said. “You have to submit 10 grants to get one.”

MCI has announced that it intends to become a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center by the year 2020 through a consortium partnership with UAB. Securing $10 million in annual grant funding is considered a requirement for the prestigious designation.

When asked about the national “Moonshot” initiative to find a cancer cure, Pierson said that “we’re not quite there yet.”

Cancer is far more complex than most people believe, he said, because there are multiple causes and other individual factors. “In my children’s lifetime, the hope is to treat cancer with a barrage of agents to give patients a good quality of life – much like the treatment of HIV – and keep the disease at bay as long as you possibly can,” he said. “If we could get to that in my lifetime, I’d be a happy camper.”

A native of Alexander City, Pierson began his career as an assistant biologist at what is now Southern Research in Birmingham. He worked as a laboratory supervisor at UAB, Biocryst Pharmaceuticals and Baxter Scientific Products before returning to UAB, where he rose to the level of business officer managing the Comprehensive Cancer Center fiscal operations. He joined the University of Louisville in 2008.

Pierson earned a bachelor’s degree in biology/chemistry and philosophy from UAB. He and his wife, Melanie, have an adult son and daughter.

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