Accomplished Researcher, Physician and Educator Named to Lead Atrium Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine Cancer Program

12.13.2022 Atrium Health News | Levine Cancer Institute

CHARLOTTE AND WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Dec. 13, 2022 – Atrium Health today announced Dr. Ruben A. Mesa has been named president and executive director of its cancer service line – which includes both Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center – and vice dean for cancer programs at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Mesa will assume the roles filled by Dr. Derek Raghavan, who had previously announced his mid-January 2023 retirement, following a longstanding and impactful career with Atrium Health, and by Dr. William Blackstock, professor and chair of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who has served as interim director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center since February. 

Mesa will advance the growth and development of the health system’s National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the entire cancer service line, and will be responsible for all aspects of the cancer program, including clinical operations, research, education, community outreach and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Dr. Mesa is a nationally renowned researcher, academic and oncology expert who has been at the forefront of cutting-edge advancement for cancer prevention, screening and treatment across the country,” said Eugene A. Woods, chief executive officer of Advocate Health, of which Atrium Health is a part. “Most importantly, he has a patient-first philosophy and will be the chief advocate leading the charge in the battle against cancer.”

Mesa currently serves as executive director of the NCI-designated Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson and professor of medicine at UT Health Science Center San Antonio. He is an internationally known expert who has dedicated his career to research and drug development for myeloproliferative neoplasms – a group of chronic leukemias that can cause bone marrow problems, acute leukemia and premature death.

Over the past 11 years, Mesa has led or co-led the development of six drugs that have been FDA approved for chronic leukemias. He has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator for more than 100 cancer clinical trials, including numerous global Phase III trials.

Mesa’s accomplishments during his tenure at UT Health San Antonio include leading the planning and design of a new research specialty hospital to focus on cancer, integrating cancer prevention and screening practice and research activities, and expanding oversight for Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute – one of only two institutes in the country dedicated solely to pediatric cancer research.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Mesa has been a pioneer in academic medicine, leading global research studies, teaching residents and medical students, and growing services to meet the needs of patients,” said Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, chief academic officer of Advocate Health, chief executive officer of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and dean of Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “He shares our passion for reducing health disparities and translating discovery into the clinical environment and we know his leadership will help us continue to elevate our academic and clinical missions.”

In addition to his extensive research and clinical practice, Mesa is dedicated to advancing cancer health equity and increasing minority patients' participation in cancer clinical trials. As one of the first Latino directors of an NCI-designated cancer center, he helped implement an innovative process that has led to increased diversity among clinical trial volunteers at Mays Cancer Center.

“I am profoundly excited by the tremendous impact on cancer our now combined and integrated Comprehensive Cancer Center will have in decreasing the burden of cancer in North Carolina and beyond,” Mesa said. “Together, we are creating a fully integrated cancer center with two main hubs and many sites that together tackle the cancer burden of a diverse and expanded area through innovative research, increased access to high quality care and clinical trials, trustworthy engagement and outreach and meaningful pipeline programs that foster workforce diversity, equity and inclusion.”

He is an NCI-funded investigator on several MPN projects and has been appointed to the NCI Clinical Trial Advisory Committee. He serves in a variety of leadership roles with the American Society of Hematology and the American Association of Cancer Research, and is currently elected to the boards of the American Association of Cancer Institutes and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Mesa has published more than 400 peer-reviewed manuscripts, written 15 book chapters, edited two books, and has delivered more than 600 national, international and visiting professor lectures.

Mesa received his bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering and physiology from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, his medical degree from Mayo Medical School, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and completed his internal medicine residency and hematology/medical oncology fellowship at Mayo Clinic.