A Strong Foundation for Progress Against Cancer
The news last week was replete with excellent research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in Orlando. Meetings like this energize the cancer community, bringing together some of the most brilliant and dedicated researchers to share insights, educate the next generation of investigators, and celebrate progress.
At the AACR meeting, I had the privilege to give an address about the opportunities we now have to make unprecedented advances in the prevention, diagnosis and early detection, and treatment of cancer. This talk came just a few weeks after the publication in Fortune magazine of an in-depth article - written by a cancer survivor - that addressed the state of cancer research in the United States.
Of course, not every story has a positive angle - nor should it. The title of the Fortune article was "Why We are Losing the War on Cancer (And How to Win It)" and it raised some important criticisms about how cancer research has been conducted. In my address at the AACR meeting, I discussed a number of strategic initiatives I believe, when taken up with the Fortune piece, address many of these criticisms.
And I believe that, with the initiatives and priorities we have established, we can fulfill our mission and reach the 2015 goal of eliminating suffering and death due to cancer. Take, for example, mouse models. We have shifted our focus away from xenograft models to the exciting work being done today with genetically engineered mouse models, much of which is being coordinated via the NCI Mouse Models of Human Cancers Consortium. These mouse models - which have physiologic properties far more reminiscent of human biology and can recapitulate human cancer both in terms of molecular biology and disease progression - are already generating important advances. For instance, an entire class of drugs, HDAC inhibitors, has been developed using an engineered mouse model of leukemia. With this highly powerful model, we will continue to make important new findings that I believe can be quickly translated into human clinical trials.
We are also making important changes to how clinical trials are conducted. At NCI, we are developing a national infrastructure for cancer clinical trials and will provide national leadership to guide and oversee the effort. I believe that this will serve to accelerate the development and testing of effective interventions and ensure that those interventions are efficiently and seamlessly incorporated into standards of care.
And, finally, I believe we can achieve the 2015 goal because the cancer community has proven time and again to be a marketplace of grand ideas and, more importantly, earnest, collaborative action. Whether it's the use of proteomics and nanotechnology to improve strategies for detecting cancer at its earliest stages or investigating novel methods for eliminating disparities in care, the cancer community is clearly a hotbed of innovation.
At AACR, Dr. Leland Hartwell, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Nobel Laureate, gave the Distinguished Lecture, focusing on the potential of molecular diagnostics to improve cancer survival. If we can make the sort of organizational and cultural changes already under way, as well as continued advances in areas like early diagnosis and combination therapy, among others, Dr. Hartwell said, he is cautiously optimistic that we can achieve the 2015 challenge goal.
I wholeheartedly agree. Swift progress in these areas can and will happen. And cancer, no doubt, will continue to make headlines - headlines that document every advance and tell the story of how we will achieve such a remarkable goal of eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach