Progress in Cancer Highlighted by NEJM Retrospective; Turning the Tide Conference to Catalyze Comprehensive Dialogue on How to Sustain Cancer Innovation

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In honor of the New England Journal of Medicine’s (NEJM’s) 200th Anniversary, the journal examined how medicine has evolved over the last two centuries, looking in particular at oncology diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. But while there has been tremendous progress in cancer, questions remain:  Where do we go from here?  And how do we get there in an era of immense fiscal discipline?  These are questions that we plan to address on Tuesday at our conference, Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation.

In a similar vein to what Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., a special guest speaker at the conference, lays out in his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, the authors of the NEJM article “Two Hundred Years of Cancer Research” provide a timeline of major discoveries and advances in cancer research and care.

They show how each milestone is built on the ones that came before it and trace the evolution of cancer progress from the early efforts to control the disease through surgery, advances in radiation, chemotherapy, and the targeted therapies that are redefining cancer treatment today.

The underlying science that made these treatment advances possible takes years to translate into clinical benefits for patients, but the original investments pay off. Our understanding of the genetic basis of cancer became possible only after decades of work on the basic biology of DNA beginning in the 1940s and 50s, but it was not until after the sequencing of the human genome that researchers were able to begin to translate genetics knowledge into new medicines.

Genetic understandings of cancer have led to breakthrough new medicines such as Xalkori® (for non-small cell lung cancer) and Zelboraf® (for melanoma) and more targeted therapies are on the way.  A new report issued by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) found that there are 981 new medicines and vaccines for cancer in development today, many of which are likely to be personalized medicines.

Tomorrow’s progress in cancer therapies and treatment approaches depend on today’s policy makers recognizing the need for policies that holistically support cancer research and innovation.  In advance of next week’s conference, a Discussion Paper “Sustaining Progress Against Cancer in an Era of Cost Containment” coalesces the views of the conference advisory committee and other leading cancer experts about new models for cancer innovation, how to define value in cancer care, and how policy can support continued progress against cancer.

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