Honored to Help Bring New Treatments to Patients
Last week Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt appointed me Acting NCI Director, effective June 11. It's an honor to be asked to head the largest cancer research organization in the world for any period of time, and I am eager to continue the work I've been engaged in at NCI over this past year.
It cannot be stressed enough that the NCI senior leadership team is committed to ensuring that, during this time of transition and uncertainty over budgetary issues, we remain focused on supporting scientific excellence, addressing high priority areas of research, and engaging in an ongoing dialogue with all members of the cancer community.
Since my earliest days as a surgeon and cancer researcher, my inspiration has been the many patients I have known and treated. I am always mindful that NCI's investment in research is, in no small part, a tribute to their perseverance, strength, and dignity in the face of such a devastating disease.
There is always a sense of renewed excitement related to the treatment of cancer this time of year, as our nation's top clinical cancer researchers gather for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). At this year's meeting I was struck by the many new treatment options emerging for those affected with cancer. In 2006, our nation's previous investment in basic, epidemiologic, and clinical research continues to pay off as the efficacies of new therapies are demonstrated.
As this issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin documents, for instance, two large phase III clinical trials presented in Atlanta demonstrated the superiority of two different agents, sunitinib and temsirolimus, for the treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) compared with the current standard of care. Little progress has been made in the treatment of this most common form of kidney cancer over the past several decades, so the availability of new, more effective options is particularly welcome. Importantly, these advances in the treatment of RCC are due in large part to the pioneering work of Drs. Marston Linehan and Berton Zbar and their colleagues in the NCI Center for Cancer Research.
This year's ASCO annual meeting also represents the continued development of the next generation of targeted therapies. We are now learning that some of the first-generation targeted agents have more than one therapeutic target in the cancer cell. But a host of newer agents having notable successes in phase II and III clinical trials - including lapatinib (Tykerb), sunitinib (Sutent), and dasatinib - were designed specifically to target multiple proteins in signaling pathways that play an important role in carcinogenesis and tumorigenesis.
The first-generation targeted therapies such as imatinib (Gleevec) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) have only been in the clinic for a few years, so the progress seen in transporting this next generation of agents to the bedside is impressive indeed.
The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas." That gets to the heart of much of what we are doing in clinical cancer research today. We know we need to kill the cancer cell, and we are proving to be remarkably adept at reinterpreting how to go about it.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber