On May 1, 2021, Dr. Agnes Lee was appointed the new associate executive director of Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI). Lee will oversee activities related to clinical trial administration, as well as the expansion of clinical research activities. Alongside VCHRI research centres and program directors, including VCHRI executive director Dr. David Granville, Lee will provide leadership to enhance collaborations and increase the integration of research into clinical care across the VCHRI research community.
A professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and medical director of the Thrombosis Program at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), Lee brings to the role over 25 years of experience as a leader in hematology and clinical research with several national and international societies. Among her many accomplishments, Lee was the Director of the Hematology Research Program and is spearheading the development of the Phase I Clinical Trial Unit for the Leukemia/ Bone Marrow Transplant Training Program at VGH. She also headed a groundbreaking clinical trial in 2003 that led to the gold standard treatment for patients with cancer and acute venous thromboembolism.
Q: What drew you to the associate executive director role with VCHRI?
A: My first reaction to the position was to concur that this is exactly what we need at VCH. As a clinical researcher, I am keenly aware of the gaps and barriers that exist for researchers. I was drawn to Dr. David Granville’s vision for VCHRI and I share his passion for elevating research at VCH. Given that VCH is the hub of academic medical research activity for British Columbia, I see this role as an opportunity to have a positive impact on patients and researchers across the province.
Q: What is your vision for clinical research and clinical trial administration within the VCH research community?
A: My vision is to facilitate a culture of research integration and collaboration with clinical care. We all recognize that we need to do research to offer the best possible patient care. It is also important to me that we find a way to remove some of the administrative burden that may be hamstringing researchers—particularly smaller research groups and new investigators—so that they can focus on the science and care delivery.
Q: How will you work to expand and improve clinical trial activities across VCHRI?
A: My first course of action will be to reach out and listen to stakeholders—from patients and researchers, to hospital administrators and VCHRI staff—to identify needs. From there I will set priorities, identify achievable goals and align collaborative efforts. I hope to identify new pathways for collaboration and innovation so that we are not reinventing the wheel, but rather working together in the smartest and most effective way possible to support research and improve health outcomes for all British Columbians. I anticipate that a major stepping stone will be the introduction of a clinical trials management system. This software will help researchers organize, track and streamline study activities, as well as help with budgeting and meeting high quality standards.
Q: What are some of the biggest hurdles along the path to moving research into clinical practice and how is VCHRI working to address this?
A: The business of our everyday work lives has a tendency to make us more siloed and focused on addressing the most pressing needs at the moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vital importance of research for the health and well-being of our communities. It also showed us that sharing the same vision can help us rapidly pivot, be creative and work together. Moving forward, I will work with stakeholders and partners to break down barriers, identify existing resources and develop systems and processes to ensure that research is an integral solution to the ongoing care needs of British Columbians.
Q: How would you define your leadership style?
A: It is definitely a team approach. When working with others who are passionate and excel at what they do, I believe that the right support and encouragement can go a long way towards getting the best results. I am very open-minded to doing things differently. I embrace change because it is a chance for improvement.
Q: What keeps you busy in your spare time?
A: I enjoy spending time with my family, especially my two daughters, who are so fun, smart and strong. I also enjoy design and watching home renovation shows—which reflects my penchant for embracing change!