Paving a new path forward

May 27, 2021
Dr. Craig Lockhart stands outside on a brick path
Dr. Craig Lockhart is motivated to expand and improve clinical trials and make Hollings a destination treatment center for patients across South Carolina. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Craig Lockhart, M.D., exudes energy, and that’s a good quality, since the physician-scientist joined MUSC on April 1 to take on three critical roles.

Lockhart was recruited as the new chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the Department of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina and will serve as associate director for clinical science at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and chief of the Oncology Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence (ICCE) at MUSC Health.

Bringing with him a wealth of experience, Lockhart hails from Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. There, he served as chief of the Division of Oncology and associate director for regional and strategic research affiliations. Specializing in gastrointestinal cancers, Lockhart has an impressive research portfolio, having been a principal investigator on more than 100 Phase I/II and III trials. Prior to joining the University of Miami, Lockhart served on the faculty and in leadership roles at Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis and at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.

In this Q&A, he shares what drew him to this position, how he can shape cancer care and how he can expand the role of Hollings, the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center.

What drew you to MUSC and Hollings Cancer Center?

I've always liked Charleston as a destination. My wife and I have visited a couple of times, once for our anniversary. We really enjoyed it, and since then, I’ve always liked Charleston for a destination. Then I learned about the opportunity at Hollings and the opportunity to shape the future of Hollings in achieving comprehensive NCI status and to have a big impact on MUSC. I believe I have some of the skill sets, experience and tools to help Dr. Raymond DuBois (Hollings Cancer Center director) and his team achieve that end. So, it was a combination of things that drew me here, including the opportunity, the institution, where the institution is headed as well as getting to live in Charleston.

How have your past roles prepared you for the challenges ahead?

In the last role I had, I wore several hats at the University of Miami, and so I got to see the institution from almost every sort of angle. I think that our interaction with the state and the community is probably what I learned most at Sylvester. We need to get Hollings and MUSC’s expertise out to the community and out to the state. You do that not only by creating a network where patients have access to the best health care and the best cancer care but also where patients are receiving the best quality care along the entire experience, from the first contact through all of their treatments.

It’s giving patients options for research trials and options for treatment and helping them through the entire process to survivorship and onward. You have ways to take care of patients away from the main center if needed, and you have specialized care at the hub. You make sure the patient experience is excellent. And that includes community outreach, where you're working with people about philanthropy and any number of things. The entire process is patient-facing. You can't do good research unless you have good relationships with patients. The entire process is all related to engaging in the community and making sure that we are embracing the needs of the community.

What is your future vision for Hollings?

I'm on board with achieving comprehensive status from NCI. There are some fantastic resources, physicians and researchers here. There are opportunities within the state where Hollings has started to make an impact, and we can enhance that. I would like to have some destination programs that are true patient magnets, drawing patients from all over the state into either a Hollings facility somewhere in the network or to the Hollings main campus.

I would like to see an experimental therapeutics clinical trials program, a multiple myeloma program and a women’s cancers program, focusing on breast cancer. Those are the types of things that I would like to develop. There are a lot of people and infrastructure here to get those processes started, so it’s just focusing on making them a reality. I feel I can make a difference at Hollings, and we’re under great leadership with Dr. DuBois. It's just coalescing the resources and the personnel toward one goal that’s readily achievable. I’m excited to be here, and I’m high energy.

What opportunities will you have in your three new roles?

Within the ICCE role, it is not just looking at the physicians, it's looking at cancer services within the entire network. That’s important because you're looking at it from the patient perspective and the nursing perspective. It’s also the physicians’ perspective but not just the oncologist. You're looking at it from the view of radiology, pathology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology and how all of those different services coalesce for the overall cancer service line.

As division chief, I’ll be mostly focused on the faculty and the advanced practitioner nurses. And those are some of our most valuable resources institutionally, and they're a lot of the patient-facing portion of what we're trying to accomplish. We have to make sure that their contribution to our overall success is recognized and appreciated and that we find ways to expand the number of physicians and nurse practitioners so we can deliver care across the MUSC Health network.

My third role relates to clinical trials. Part of providing state-of-the-art care is providing patients access to the latest and greatest cutting-edge therapies. That all fits together with the overall vision for what makes Hollings great. You have to offer standard therapy, but you also have to offer what's next — experimental therapeutics and those types of services to be considered a top-notch cancer center.

Accessibility to clinical trials is a passion for you. Why is that?

When I was at Washington University in St. Louis, I ran the developmental therapeutics program. We took it from a relatively small program to a very large program, and it was designated by the NCI as an Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network. We received a grant to get to that status and became one of the premiere Phase 1 clinical trial programs in the country. It allowed patients to have access to the newest therapies. We had a team of nurses, research coordinators and physicians who were well-trained and able to deliver that level of care to the patients in St. Louis and all around. It was a destination program where we attracted patients from within the institution, outside the institution and from other states. It was a patient magnet to bring patients into the system. We had a lot of partnerships at other cancer centers and partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry. We were able to grow the program and opened clinical trials very quickly. The feedback from patients was very, very positive. We had high patient satisfaction.

This is what we want here. It gives patients opportunities to receive novel therapies, especially if they’re running out of options for standard therapies. Plus, it’s advancing the science. Sometimes, these studies are looking at completely novel therapies. Sometimes, they're looking at new ways to look at existing therapies. And sometimes, they're looking at novel combinations — new combinations being combined for the first time.

What emphasis should be placed on cancer survivorship as a focal area for Hollings?

I feel survivorship is definitely an important area. Survivorship is an important part of any cancer center. The goal is that the majority of patients will survive their cancers and go on to be survivors. We expect that that would be the largest population of our patients, and we need to remain engaged with them so that they can feel comfortable that their team doesn't abandon them once they have finished therapy. That's how you build your reputation — taking care of the patient from initial contact through the rest of his or her life as a cancer survivor.

What’s your driving mantra in life?

Cancer can be a deadly disease, particularly certain kinds where the outcomes aren’t great. What drives me personally is I know we can do better. If someone comes in with a new diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, I know where it's going to probably go, right? We have to do better than what we're doing right now. And that's what drives me to keep pushing to find new therapies or better use of older therapies so that we're able to improve upon the expected outcomes of those patients. I know if someone with metastatic pancreatic cancer shows up in my office, they may have about nine months to live. And, that's not acceptable. We have to do better than that.

On the personal front, what does your family think of the move?

My family is very excited to live here, especially my wife. I have two kids: my son Cameron, 22, and my daughter Jamie, 17. One is about to graduate from college and one is about to go to college. We’re looking forward to a new experience here.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy running, fishing, boating and going out to good restaurants. I also like to karaoke with friends. It's not like I sing great. I don't, but it's just fun to go out and perform. I like singing “Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes. I like “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and “Red, Red Wine” is one of my go-to songs by UB40 because I’m originally from Jamaica so that goes back to the sort of Jamaican reggae thing. I got that one down.