"Fixing Cancer"

"Fixing Cancer"

03.25.13 | By Jennifer Wall

If we really want to "fix cancer," as Ezekiel Emanuel and a group of oncologists suggested in the New York Times this weekend, we should focus on how we can continue to build on medical innovation collaborations that can lead to better scientific knowledge and discovery of targeted treatments that can help defeat this complex disease. Furthermore, we need to have an ongoing dialogue about what type of public policy framework is necessary that supports biopharmaceutical innovation so that we can continue to make important advances in medicine.

Speaking of which, TIME magazine just unveiled its April 1 issue titled, "How to Cure Cancer," which details collaborative efforts that now exist to push the medical innovation boundaries forward. The article highlights research collaborations in the oncology space that are moving full speed ahead in trying to find new treatments for patients with gene mutations or other factors that are often the root cause of cancers developing and growing in patients.

In the words of the TIME article author, "Cancer is an intricate and potentially lethal collaboration of genes gone awry, of growth inhibitors gone missing, of hormones and epigenomes changing and rogue cells breaking free." Simply put, the complexity of cancer is extraordinary. For this very reason, it won't just take an army to find a solution or "fix" for a cancer diagnosis. Rather, it will take all of our science-based armed forces - all branches - to build on the scientific and technological advances that have led to better understanding of the many forms of cancer. This means that biopharmaceutical companies, doctors, federal research institutions and academia need to continue to work together collaboratively to make inroads in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

The whole notion of building on medical advances is important. For it is incremental innovation that has literally transformed how patients have received care over the last decade and even century. Underscoring this point is a Boston Healthcare Associates paper which provides a unique overview of the incremental benefits of specific cancer therapies currently available for patients in the U.S. and outlines the pathways by which new benefits have been realized with these treatments.

Dean Kamen, a great medical device champion and inventor, spoke about the issue of medical progress (or incremental innovation) in times of cost-containment and provided a very interesting picture. He said, "The reason 100 years ago everyone could afford their healthcare is because healthcare was a doctor giving you some elixir and telling you you'll be fine. And if it was a cold you would be fine. And if it turns out it was consumption; it was tuberculosis; it was lung cancer-you could still sit there. He'd give you some sympathy, and you'd die. Either way, it's pretty cheap. We now live in a world where technology has triumphed, in many ways, over death."

Indeed. Thankfully, there are many medical options for patients with a wide range of diseases, including cancer. But the discovery of transformational medicine didn't happen overnight. It happened over a period of time in which scientists, oftentimes working with other partners in the innovation ecosystem, built on the knowledge of yesterday's treatments to make advances in today's and eventually tomorrow's treatments. And the good news is that these gains can lead to savings in the health care system over time.

For this reason, it is critically important to look at the long-term value that medicines, and collaborative efforts, provide not only for patients but also for the U.S. health care system.

In conclusion, I couldn't agree more with Dean Kamen's strong statement that, "Rather than slowing the pace of medical progress in order to cut healthcare costs, America should be encouraging more innovation in life-saving drugs and technologies." More to come on this issue next week...

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