#PhRMA12: Malcolm Gladwell's Lessons From the Past

#PhRMA12: Malcolm Gladwell's Lessons From the Past

04.12.12 | By Kate Connors

I won't get into the details of Malcolm Gladwell's incredibly interesting lunchtime speech about his new theory of the "inverted U." After all, I don't want to scoop his forthcoming book.

But he did spend a bit of time telling the story of the decades-ago battle against childhood leukemia. A fatal disease through the 1950s, it was a group of young, innovative researchers who conquered the disease in the early 1960s by being willing to try things that were thought to be dangerous: surgery and combination use of drugs.

By defying the dominant thought at the time, their work and their ideas have saved generations of children who were afflicted with leukemia. It's quite extraordinary.

Their work also changed the way that we battle cancer in general. Though thought leaders at the time assumed that combination use of medicines would be overly toxic for the patient, these researchers disproved that theory - and as a result, combination therapies have saved millions of patients battling myriad diseases.

As he said, "It's one of the first great victories against cancer in the modern age, and it's the dawn of an idea that has been at the center of medical research since, and it's that drugs are most effective in combination."

During a Q&A session after the speech, one observer commented that it's a reminder of the theory that there's more to genius than inspiration - but that perseverance is an equally important ingredient as well.

It's a story that I have never heard, but I sure am glad that I did. We've used a phrase before at PhRMA: innovation is cyclical, and innovation is cumulative. The daring research done on childhood leukemia opened countless doors for medical progress.

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateAtPhRMA.

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