Cancer treatment hasn’t improved as much as society hoped it would in the 40 years following President Richard M. Nixon’s making $1.6 billion available for what became known as the War on Cancer.
Technology, however, has advanced at an astonishing pace since then. And in the next 10 years, new technologies are expected to teach us more about cancer than we have learned in the last five decades combined, said Ron Andrews, President of Medical Science at Life Technologies in Carlsbad. Unfortunately, we should not expect this knowledge to uncover the secret to curing cancer, Andrews told a group of patient advocates, life science professionals and media gathered for the Clearity Foundation’s October 23 panel discussion on personalized medicine.
People who don’t understand cancer may subscribe to the idea that the cure is elusive because life science companies, researchers and/or the government make a profit on people remaining sick. The frustrating truth is that cancer isn’t one disease. It’s hundreds of diseases. And it is the metastatic nature of cancer that makes it so deadly and hard to combat, said David Nelson, CEO of Epic Sciences, and moderator of the panel discussion. “If we are going to impact cancer, we are going to have to understand metastasis,” Nelson said.
Harnessing advanced technologies to develop methods for visualizing and tracking cancer cells before they form metastases and finding molecular commonalities between the hundreds of different cancer types are exactly what the “bright stars” of research and medicine represented on the Clearity panel are trying to do, Nelson told the more than 100 people attending the event.
Joining Andrews on the panel was Foundation Medicine CEO Michael Pellini, M.D., and The Scripps Research Institute Associate Professor Peter Kuhn, Ph.D. All three men discussed how their employers are using proprietary technologies to contribute to better, more personalized cancer diagnosis, treatment and outcomes. Through their presentations and the ensuing Q&A session, the Clearity gathering helped to continue building a community consensus and agenda for making personalized medicine a widely accepted standard of care.
A major theme of the evening was the challenge of convincing regulators and payers to embrace the genetic testing that allows for targeted, personalized medicine. The issue continues to be a major challenge for patients, clinicians, diagnostics companies and the therapeutic companies with which they partner. If reimbursement issues aren’t fixed, the investment in new diagnostics and targeted therapies isn’t going to happen as it should, the panelists said.
That’s where Clearity Foundation plays an important role, Andrews said. It can play a part in getting the new wave of genomic information to patients.
In the meantime, the San Diego business community has an opportunity to come together to address the issue, said Kuhn. “We know how to deploy investment. We know so much about targets and oncology is one of our sweet spots. We need to get together with private investors and be a part of the solution, and get the entire business community on board,” he said.
Author Terri Somers is a Principal of Somers Media