Monday, June 30, 2008

Exploring the Progress and Potential of Cancer Care

I had the privilege of hearing some terrific speakers at a recent forum in Washington, DC called “Outlook on Oncology: Exploring the Progress and Potential of Cancer Care” sponsored by Pfizer Oncology. After an overview of the Pfizer oncology portfolio, Dr. Kavita Patel, Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, spoke about her work on Senator Kennedy’s much anticipated cancer legislation. The legislation will look at the highest priorities for federal action and will take a much needed comprehensive approach so as not to pit one cancer against another. She highlighted many of the unfortunate realities in cancer research that continue to need attention: a biospecimen network that is not entirely networked and not universally accessible to researchers, a clinical trials system that mystifies even the most savvy patients and practitioners, and a need to do more…much more.

She cited the need to look closely at public/private partnerships and to fortify what the public and private sectors can do together to advance cancer research and care. When I asked her if the legislation was going to incent opportunities to fund and target innovative research at the National Cancer Institute she replied that they’d looked closely at existing models that allow this flexibility. Will this cost money? You bet. But Dr. Patel pointed out that if we don’t put money into this now, we’ll lose tremendous opportunities for innovation, not to mention the prospect of losing talent to other nations that are not intimidated by risk and are recruiting scientific talent faster than the American Idol winners are getting scooped up. Finally, she said they want to do health care policy forecasting so they can pre-anticipate what the implications of the legislation will be on all the systems in six months, one year, five years, etc. How refreshing to think about some advance planning in biomedical research! It is inspiring to hear her talk about Senator Kennedy’s renewed commitment to this legislation, and comforting to know that the Lion of the Senate is roaring.

Linda Ellerbee, a noted journalist and breast cancer survivor gave a captivating luncheon speech about the power of each patient and described her personal journey after her diagnosis 16 years ago. It was remarkable to think back to a time when speaking of breast cancer or any cancer for that matter was a taboo subject. I have worked in the HIV/AIDS movement and have seen the same transformation in that arena, where HIV invoked fear and silence. Ms. Ellerbee talked about how when the public demands something, things can change. I reflected on how AIDS and cancer activists have changed the landscape of biomedical policy. We still need much more change, so her words were an important reminder that there is always more to do. At FasterCures, we are embarking on several exciting new initiatives in our new strategic plan. Stay tuned to hear about ways we want to impact many of these issues and foster change, in areas such as biobanking, the conduct of clinical trials, and in fostering innovation.

- Margaret Anderson, COO, FasterCures

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