Conference Affirms Priorities, Strategies for 2015
"An investment in knowledge," said Benjamin Franklin, "always pays the best interest." Perhaps without officially proclaiming it, this has been the cancer community's mantra. We have made a tremendous investment in learning as much as we can about cancer and it has paid untold returns. We have amassed enough knowledge that I believe we now have the edge on this disease: We have a distinct understanding of the process by which it develops and becomes lethal and, more importantly, we have learned its vulnerabilities. And every day that store of knowledge grows, amassing more power.
This was part of the message I delivered during an intriguing and exciting meeting last week, the Milken Institute Global Conference. Nearly 2,000 leaders from the worlds of business, public and foreign policy, academia, and other arenas participated. Along with some of America's most brilliant medical minds, including Nobel Laureates Drs. David Baltimore and Lee Hartwell, I had the honor of participating in five panels that all shared a common theme: identifying the steps that must be taken to make important, needed advances in medical care. Cancer was the focus of several of these sessions.
It was immensely encouraging to witness the participants' almost uniformly positive feelings about our ability to defeat cancer. Beyond that, however, was the agreement about the roles technology and communication must play in this process. At NCI, we have embraced these same conclusions and have launched initiatives to make them a reality.
Take the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, or caBIG. With this initiative, we are using technology to connect all cancer researchers and provide unprecedented access to data and tools that will improve research efficiency. Then there is the National Advanced Technologies Initiative for Cancer, with which we are creating a coordinated national infrastructure to improve the availability of and access to key technologies. We also have made important investments in fields such as nanotechnology and proteomics, and are driving advances in areas like imaging.
On several occasions, panel members bemoaned the expense and time now required to bring a new drug to market: approximately $800 million and more than 15 years. Greg Simon, president of the Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions, put it bluntly when he called the latter figure an "awful number." I agree. And I believe that technological advances can and will dramatically shorten this time.
But technology is only part of the solution. Again and again, conference participants talked about the necessity of collaboration and communication - not just between one or two segments of the medical establishment, but among all those with a stake in preventing illnesses from taking more lives. That means researchers, clinicians, advocacy groups, patients, technology companies, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, and others.
Again, NCI is leading the way. Through our partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, we are developing processes to ensure that clinical trials are more efficient and effective, and that positive results are more quickly translated into new diagnostic or treatment options for patients. With caBIG, we are creating an entirely new portal to connect researchers, clinicians, advocates, patients, and others.
Overall, I returned to NCI late last week with a strong affirmation that we are indeed on the right track - on the path to 2015. And if the conference participants' attitude is any indication, I think we can count on a lot of help.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach